My Black Widow

She does, you know, whatever a spider can

Photo by Getty Images

My Black Widow

Latrodectus mactans. That's the Latin name, the name that scientists use, for a black widow spider. My own Latrodectus mactans is named Erzsébet.

I named her after Erzsébet Báthory, of course, after that 16th-century Hungarian noblewoman and reputed serial killer. I named my black widow that because such a lethality-associated tag seemed appropriate for a small and pretty creature whose venom is, as they say, medically significant.

Latrodectus mactans. That’s the Latin name, the name that scientists use, for a black widow spider. My own Latrodectus mactans is named Erzsébet.

But Erzsébet has been the easiest and most rewarding pet I've yet had, arthropodwise, and I, uh, listen: I've had a fuckton of arthropods as pets over the years. I've kept scorpions and tarantulas and millipedes and hissing cockroaches and vinegaroons and tailless whip scorpions and – there've been a lot of various bugs in my life thus far, is my point. And all of those arthropods have been easier to deal with, on a taking-care-of-daily-needs basis, than any of the cats or dogs or snakes I've lived with. And – since I got her from my mad roboticist friend Brooks Coleman, who lives in a ramshackle DIY bunker in some far boondocks of the Texas Hill Country – the potentially deadly Erzsébet has been the easiest of all.

My black widow lives in a tall (and lidded) glass vase that's got a couple of sticks sticking up from the base of it – the better for her to weave her chaotic patterns of webbing. And once a week, I give her a live cricket and spritz her web with a bit of water. And that's it. No, really: That's all I do. For two years now – Latrodectus mactans typically live for one to three years – that's all I ever have to do, and there inside a transparent vase atop one of my home office's bookcases is a black widow spider, looking as gorgeous as only that ebony-hued species with the bold red hourglass on its abdomen's underside can look. Erzsébet is typically hanging out like a living gem, or fussing with her structures of web, or capturing and killing and devouring a cricket in a compelling microspectacle of Nature's Inherent Savagery, and generally providing all the visual beauty of a darkly flowering plant – but with magnitudes more biological complexity and fascinating kinesis.

What's not to love?

And maybe I shouldn't recommend such a creature as a pet. Because there's always some idiot who will want to, like, play with their pet L. mactans, and take her out of her home, and accidentally pinch her the wrong way, and then she bites them, and they have to spend a night in the hospital and suffer ridiculous health care costs to make sure they don't experience cardiac breakdown due to neurotoxins defensively introduced into the ol' idiotic bloodstream.

But not everybody is an idiot. And all sorts of people have all sorts of pets. I mean, Russia's Vladimir Putin has his own pet Trump, right? So maybe you should consider a creature that's much less obnoxious and horrifying, that's less destructive to the environment, and that has nothing in common with Nazis other than a distinctive red-and-black color scheme?

I'm just saying.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More pets
Mr. Smarty Pets Knows
Mr. Smarty Pets Knows
Fun facts and weird stats all about animals

Mr. Smarty Pants, Feb. 10, 2017

More by Wayne Alan Brenner
Visual Art Review: Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation’s “The Still Life”
Visual Art Review: Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation’s “The Still Life”
This charming exhibit rehabilitates neglected stuffies, then puts them to work creating art

March 22, 2024

Spider Sculptures, Gore Feasts, and More Arts Events
Spider Sculptures, Gore Feasts, and More Arts Events
Feed your art habit with these recommended events for the week

March 22, 2024


pets, Pet Issue 2020, black widow, Erzsébet Báthory, Latrodectus mactans, spider

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle