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Vetter Brown Widow JME (1)

Vetter Brown Widow JME (1)

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S
HORT
C
OMMUNICATION
The Prevalence of Brown Widow and Black Widow Spiders(Araneae: Theridiidae) in Urban Southern California
RICHARD S. VETTER,
1,2
LEONARD S. VINCENT,
3
DOUGLAS W. R. DANIELSEN,
3
KATHRYN I. REINKER,
3
DANIEL E. CLARKE,
4
AMELIA A. ITNYRE,
3
JOHN N. KABASHIMA,
5
AND
MICHAEL K. RUST
1
J. Med. Entomol. 49(4): 947Ð951 (2012); DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1603/ME11285
ABSTRACT
The brown widow spider,
Latrodectus geometricus
C. L. Koch, has become newlyestablished in southern California during the Þrst decade of the 21st century. Brown widows and eggsacs were collected within the urban Los Angeles Basin using timed searches. We also collected andcompared the abundance and distribution of the native western black widow spider,
Latrodectushesperus
Chamberlin & Ivie, to brown widows. Brown widows were very common around urbanstructures especially outside homes, in parks, under playground equipment, in plant nurseries andlandscaping areas, greatly outnumbering native western black widows, and were very rare or non-existentingarages,agriculturalcrops,andnaturalareas.Westernblackwidowspredominatedinxerichabitatsandwerelessprevalentaroundhomes.Neitherspecieswasfoundinthelivingspaceofhomes.In southern California, envenomation risk exists because brown widows are now common in urbanareas and the spiders hide where people place their Þngers and exert pressure to move objects (e.g.,underthecurledlipofpottedplants,intherecessedhandleofplastictrashbins).Nonetheless,brownwidow spiderbites are less toxic than those of native western blackwidow spiders and, hence, if theyare displacing black widows, overall widow envenomation risk may actually be lower than beforebrown widow establishment.
KEY WORDS
brown widow,
Latrodectus
, Arachnida, urban entomology, invasive speciesIn North America, the brown widow spider,
Latro-dectusgeometricus
C.L.Koch,wasÞrstdocumentedinFloridain1935(Pearson1936)whereithadrestricteddistribution for decades in the peninsular portion of the state. In the Þrst decade of the 21st century, itexperienced a robust range expansion. By 2011, itbecame well established in the southeastern UnitedStates from Texas through South Carolina (Brown etal.2008,Vincentetal.2008).InsouthernCalifornia,itwas Þrst discovered in Torrance (Los AngelesCounty) in 2003 (Vincent et al. 2008) and has sincespread throughout the Los Angeles and San Diegometropolitan areas through western Los AngelesCounty,easttowesternRiversideandSanBernardinocounties and to the Mexican border. The brownwidowwasnoticednotonlybyarachnologistsbutalsobythegeneralpublicbecauseoftheirproliÞcnumbersanddistinctivespikedeggsacsthatcanoftenbefoundinconspicuousclumpsofseveraltodozensatonewebsite.When the brown widow was originally named in1841, it was already known from Africa and SouthAmerica (Garb et al. 2004), somewhat obscuring itslikely place of origin. Garb et al. (2004) suggestedAfrica as the place of origin because of the widedistribution of brown widows on that continent andthepresenceofitsclosestsisterspecies,
L.rhodesiensis
Mackay. The brown widow is pantropical in distribu-tion,alsobeingfoundinsuchenvironmentallydiverselocations as Hawaii, the southeastern United States,Jamaica, Bermuda, Haiti, Cuba, Israel, Turkey, India,Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Phillip-ines, and Japan (Baerg 1954, Levi 1967, Levy 1998,MurphyandMurphy2000,Garbetal.2004,Bayrametal. 2008, Brown et al. 2008). However, as brown wid-ows expanded throughout southern California, thequestion arose as to which of the many habitats theywere newly colonizing; it would be surprising if thebrown widow used these different environmentsequally. Although the brown widow is pantropical,there is little information reported about its micro-habitat use.Wedocumentedthepresenceofbrownwidowspi-ders in southern California by performing timedsearches in various habitats such as urban property,
1
Department of Entomology, University of California, Riverside,CA 92521.
2
Corresponding author, e-mail: rick.vetter@ucr.edu.
3
Division of Natural Sciences, Fullerton College, Fullerton, CA92634.
4
Department of Biological Sciences, Humboldt State University,Arcata, CA 95521.
5
University of California Cooperative Extension, Orange County,1045 Arlington Drive, Costa Mesa, CA 92626.0022-2585/12/0947Ð0951$04.00/0
2012 Entomological Society of America
 
agricultural lands, developed parks, and undevelopednatural areas. We also included the native westernblack widow spider,
Latrodectus hesperus
Chamberlinand Ivie, for comparison of abundance and habitatselection. Additionally, we relate this to envenoma-tion risk for this newly colonizing spider.
Materials and Methods
Thisbrownwidowprojectwasinitiallylaunchedonthe Center for Invasive Species Research Web site inthe Entomology Department at the University of Cal-ifornia-Riverside to alert the general public to thedesireforbrownwidowspidersinsouthernCalifornia.Fromhere,theprojectwassubsequentlypromotedinthreelocalnewspapers,twotelevisionstations,aradiostation,andtheOrangeCountyMasterGardenernet-work such that most of the Los Angeles area waspotentiallyawareoftheneedforspidersandeggsacs.Active collections by the authors were performed inOrange and western Riverside County at homes, el-ementary schools, parks, playgrounds, agriculturalproperties, zoos, horticultural properties or plantnurseries, and undeveloped areas. The choice of hab-itat was not random but instead was usually haphaz-ardly chosen, inßuenced by the availability of prop-erties (many generated through ofÞcial contacts byone of us (J.N.K.)), and the proximity of these prop-erties to the collectors. Home inspections were gen-eratedthroughpublicityandthewillingnessofMasterGardeners and other home owners to volunteer theirproperties for inspection as well as requests made tofamilyandfriendsoftheauthors.Becausethisfundedbrown widow project was simultaneously involved inlookingforparasitoidsandpredatorsofeggsacs(Vet-teretal.inpress),oneofthegoalswastocollectalargenumber of egg sacs for examination, hence, some of ourchoicesweregearedtowardenvironmentsthatweknew would be likely to be infested with brown wid-ows. However, we attempted to canvas a variety of areas where interaction between humans and spiderswould vary from low to high to assess the potential of envenomationrisk.Becauseoftheoverwhelmingpop-ulations of brown widows in many of the urban prop-erties, for comparison, we actively chose additionalhabitats where black widows were historically verycommon before the establishment of the brownwidow to determine if this numerical superiority of the invasive species extended to these other sites.Spidersand/ortheireggsacswerecollected,placedin vials and given a unique number. The presence of a spider (and whether it was female, male, or imma-ture), egg sacs (including the number of them), orboth were noted at each site. We recorded the loca-tion of the spiders or egg sacs (i.e., under patio chair,in the recessed handle of a plastic garbage can) andthe approximate height above the ground. At eachcollection property, the number of collectors (one tosix) was recorded as well as the start and Þnish times.Bydoingso,wecouldcalculatearoughestimateofthenumber of locations that harbored brown widow spi-ders per collector per collection hour to compare thedifferent habitats.We also collected western black widows and theiregg sacs. The latter are readily distinguishable frombrown widow sacs: black widow sacs are larger with asmoothoutersurface.Becausemost(83%)ofthedatacollections were performed during the day, thisstrongly biased our Þnding of brown widows. To de-tect the more secretive western black widows, weoccasionallyperformednocturnalcollectionsbutalsodid nocturnal censuses rather than collections wherewe just counted the spiders of each species. Thesecensuses were also timed and the number of speci-mensforeachwidowspecieswascounted.Immatureswere collected to verify species if there was doubt of identity because immature western black widows canlook very similar to brown widows of the same size(Vincent et al. 2008).As we collected, we noted those locations wherebrown widow retreats would increase the likelihoodof humans pressing their Þngers or other body partsagainst the spider and possibly experience an enven-omation. The goal was to provide this information tosouthern California homeowners to minimize thechance of a bite now that the brown widow havebecome ubiquitous.
Results
We collected data at 72 sites, which involved 96.8 hofcollecting.Brownwidowspiderswerepresentatupto 32 locations per collector hour and are extremelycommoninurbansouthernCaliforniahabitats(Table1). The brown widow spider made its retreat or de-positedeggsacsunderpicnicandpatiotables(19.0%),under patio chairs (especially inexpensive plasticmold-injected chairs with many supporting pieces of ridges on the underside) (12.1%) (Fig. 1), under thehorizontal support piece in wooden fences or underthe overhanging capping of brick walls (with at leasta
5 cm overhang) (13.9%), in the nooks on theundersides of plastic playground equipment (6.5%),under plastic garbage bins or in the downward-facingrecessed handle (6.2%), and in the curled lips of pot-ted plants (4%) (Table 2). They were never foundinsidehousesandonlyrarelyingaragesorsheds(2%),typically only if the door was usually left open. Theywere also very common at horticultural and plantnursery facilities although at some of these places,they were more commonly found under the tablesused for potting or maintaining the plants or underpicnic tables used for social events rather than in theplants or on the containers themselves.Brown widows were uncommon or absent in nat-ural and agricultural areas (Table 1). We found themin curled or gathered leaves of citrus, avocado andappletrees,typicallyaturbanhomes,butnotincitrustrees in an agricultural setting (Table 1). In contrast,black widows were abundant in agricultural settings(but never in managed tree crop vegetation) and lesscommon around homes than brown widows. The ur-ban areas where black widows dominated were in a948 J
OURNAL OF
M
EDICAL
E
NTOMOLOGY
Vol. 49, no. 4
 
commercial business center with a stoneface exteriorand in a series of apartment garages where theyemerged from vertical gaps between the door andframe. In some instances such as under the curled lipof a potted plant, we found a mature female of both abrownandwesternblackwidowspiderwithin1cmof each other.Of the locations where they were collected, 78.3%ofthebrownwidowswerefoundwithin1mfromtheground (Fig. 2); on rare occasion, they nested in theeavesofhouses(Table2).Manyoftheselocationshadhigh potential for envenomation such as in the re-cessed handle of a garbage can or under the lip of apotted plant. Black widows similarly exhibited a pref-erence for locations close to the ground (Fig. 2).When brown widows were present on a property,theyusuallygreatlyoutnumberedourÞndsofwesternblack widows (Table 1). At homes, we only collected0.42westernblackwidowspercollectorhour;thisratewastwentytimeslowerthanforbrownwidows.How-
Table 1. The no. o
Latrodectus
spiders found in different habitats in southern California
No. per collector per hourHours of collecting Sample sizeBrownwidowBlackwidowUrban homes (day and night) 8.59
6.78 0.42
0.84 41.8 46Urban homes (night only)
a
7.86
5.97 0.17
0.41 6.3 6Playgrounds 7.38
4.00 0.33
0.58 3.1 3Plant nursery/horticultural 6.57
4.05 0.60
0.96 16.0 3Zoos 3.35
3.02 0.30
0.43 8.4 2Landscaped parks 9.21
7.80 1.71
1.21 7.1 5Agriculture, citrus 0.00
0.00 0.00
0.00 5.4 2Agriculture, avocados 1.25
2.17 0.00
0.00 2.8 3Agriculture buildings (day collect) 2.12
2.29 0.61
0.15 9.6 2Nocturnal censuses (counts but not collecting)Rural home zoned for horses 0.0 84.0 0.6 1Apartment complex garages 0.0 90.0 0.2 1Agricultural buildings 0.0 82.2 0.6 1Undeveloped natural area 0.0
0.0 2.6
3.7 0.8 2Industrial park 2.4 155.9 0.4 1
a
Subset of the 46 urban homes that were inspected, presented here for comparison to the nocturnal surveys in the bottom portion of thetable.
Fig.1.
Brownwidowspidersilkretreatandeggsacinthecorneroftheundersideofaplasticchair.Thereisnoinherentretreat; the spider created its own retreat out of silk.
Table 2. The microhabitat choices of 
L. geometricus
in south-ern California (
 N 
504)
FrequencyOutdoor furniture and patio itemsTable 96Chair 61Barbecue 6Gazebo 3Structural buildingWooden fence and horizontal supports 38Brick wall and overhangs 32Bench 20Eave 14Chain link or wrought iron fence 10Stairs, ramps 8Shed 7Window 6Garage door 3Shelf 2Rock 2Botanical and gardenLip of potted plant 20Potted plant 15Inside small plant or bush 10Apple tree 4Avocado tree 2Composter 2Green house 1Recreational equipmentPark playground equipment 33Diving board 6Bike, motorcycle 6Household playground equipment 3Trampoline 2Boat 2Water slide 2Household accessoriesTrash can 31Electrical box, socket 15Water faucet 4Hose reel 3Water fountain 2Mailbox 1Other 29
July 2012 V
ETTER ET AL
.: W
IDOW
S
PIDERS IN
U
RBAN
S
OUTHERN
C
ALIFORNIA
949

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