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Arach No! Phobia

Confessions of a spider killer

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It's that time of year again, the season that makes me shudder--but not from cold. It's the season of the great arachnid migration into my house. My very being quakes with intuitive knowledge before my mind can grasp the reality--a spider is in the room. Call me psychic, but I can sense when a spider is near. It probably comes from my intense childhood fear of the web weavers, which, for the most part, I've overcome. I appreciate the wonderful silk weaving ability of spiders and their quick dispatch of prey. As part of my job, I've handled and identified thousands of them over the years (usually safe inside glass jars or floating dead in alcohol). But still, a tiny, quivering shudder sits waiting for release when I see a live spider. It has been a long time since I've allowed that shiver to release. I keep it at bay with logic: "They're smaller than you are" or "They're more afraid of you than you are of them." But, nevertheless, the fear lurks like a spider waiting to scurry up my back.

When the little buggers begin seeking out places to hole up for the winter, I start noticing something out of the corner of my eye skittering blur-like across the carpet. I put down my book and stare. The little hex sign has stopped and blends into the tan carpet, but not quite. I don't have to think, "What was that?" I know. I knew before I turned my head.

Even more startling and ominous is when spiders don't move at all. I'll be walking with bare feet from one room to another and there in the corner or next to a door jam sits a dark star shape, a multi-legged swastika. Deep down I cringe and hurry off to find my weapon.

If it were spring or summer, I'd take prisoners. I'd invert a glass and put it over the little, leggy creature and slide a piece of thick paper under the mouth of the glass to cart my captive outside. Spiders are good insect eaters and I don't hate them; I just don't want them in my house. Employing this glass trick in winter or late fall doesn't work, because like a drunk tossed out of a warm, cozy neighborhood bar, the brute will just turn around and squeeze right back in when your back is turned.

So when cold weather hits, I use a different tactic for spider control. Some folks use those yellow sticky traps that lay on the floor like a jelly quagmire waiting for unsuspecting spiders to stumble into. They work fine, but knowing me, I'd be wearing those things as slippers within a week. And pesticides are not an option in my house; I figure the less exposure to toxins the better. No, I actually face my fear factor and turn to hunting. With flyswatter in hand I move with the stealth of a shiny, black widow tiptoeing within striking distance. My body is tense knowing what the enemy will do. He or she will run, and I must be fast, very fast. Inside I am screaming, but outside, I'm all warrior armed with the skill of a sure strike.

This early winter phenomenon of arachnids bunking in my country home is an annual event because the country is a virtual Mecca for spiders. There's habitat aplenty and insects galore. You're never far from a spider when you're in the country; just walk into any old barn in the dead of night with a flashlight. You won't need that fake Halloween cobweb silk to add a touch of terror--it's already there, along with black widows hanging from the rafters (and no, not the rubber kind).

After much reconnaissance of my home base, I've come to know my tiny enemy's hidey-holes. There is one intersection in particular, a place close to the floor next to the furnace room door that's equivalent to a spidery street corner in a Southside Chicago hood. Eight-eyed, eight-legged, hairy thugs hang there or sit underneath the edge of the door peering out. Mostly it's just one bad boy, but sometimes two creeps show up. In those cases, I wonder why the bigger one doesn't knock off the little fella.

That spidey hangout is so popular that after killing three same-sized, same-looking spiders on three consecutive days, I began thinking it was just one spider coming back to haunt me. It was like some weird déjà vu nightmare where I'd ask myself after each execution, "Didn't I just kill you?"

The answer to why two spiders in close proximity don't murder each other was made clear one shocking afternoon when I witnessed two new spiders copulating right there on the wall. The effrontery of it all! I dispatched them both with one solid swat and later felt a little guilty (but only for a nanosecond). After all, they did die happy.

Suzann Bell is a horticulturist with the University of Idaho Extension in Ada County. Send gardening, plant or insect questions to Suzann c/o Boise Weekly or e-mail: sbell@uidaho.edu.

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