A black widow story that'll make you shake out your sheets tonightS

Inspired by Jackson Landers’s recent piece on black widows at The New York Times, It's Okay to be Smart's Joe Hanson decided to relate the story of his own harrowing encounter with the iconic arachnid. "It's all true," he writes. "This happened fifteen years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday."

Top photo by peasap via flickr

Hanson's piece is part narrative, part structural biochemistry, part toxicology — and all highly entertaining. We've included the intro here, but you'll want to head over to IOTBS for the whole shebang.

Hanson begins:

A black widow story that'll make you shake out your sheets tonightS

This is not the black widow that bit me.

The spider that bit me is now spinning webs in the sky. Or wherever dead spiders end up. Unlike dogs, I have a strong suspicion that they do not all go to heaven.

I killed her. I didn’t do it on purpose, but she’s dead. We had a miscommunication about the ownership of a sleeping bag, and it got ugly. First for her, when I rolled over and squished her, and later for me. Before she went, she made sure I wouldn’t enjoy my stay for long. In that last instant of spider life, she bit me. I wouldn’t know that any of this drama had taken place for a couple hours, of course. But I would definitely come to know it. I would come to know it so hard. (This is a long story, so I spared you dashboard readers. Click through to read the gory details)

It had been a nice day. I was about a mile south of Junction, Texas, a one-night campground layover on my way to a Boy Scout backpacking trip through the mountains of west Texas. I was excited to see them, if only to prove to myself that such terrain existed in a state where the top of your driveway might be the highest point for miles. The night was clear and cool, the kind of night that makes you decide not to pitch your tent, so you can be closer to nature. So very close to nature.

Black widow spiders are actually several species, all part of the genus Latrodectus. They are normally pretty timid. If you live in North America, they’re probably in a dark corner under your house right now, not bothering anyone. Comforting thought, eh? They really don’t want to bite you, though. But they will, if they are cornered, or smooshed.

Males are small and brown (you can see a couple in my photo above), and don’t pack much punch. But the females, oof. They are bulbous and black, and each wears a brand in the shape of a crimson hourglass on their belly, a dressing of toxic couture to mask the hurt inside. The most infamous spider on Earth.

About an hour after I fell asleep that night, I woke up with a start. My right arm was numb. No biggie, that happens all the time. I rolled over and waited for blood to flow back into my arm, washing away those prickly pins and needles with a cool wave of feeling. But it didn’t go away. And why could I still move my hand?

Continue reading at It's Okay to be Smart.