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Citizen scientists to help track brown widow spiders

Media reports now have residents around the state on the lookout for brown widow spiders, which will help a UC Riverside scientist who is trying to track its rapidly expanding range.

"Wanted dead or alive," announced an article in the Redding Record Searchlight. Reporter Laura Christman tempered the ominous lead with a succinct quote from UC Riverside staff research associate Rick Vetter, "Chill."

"It's nothing to be overly concerned about. I'm more interested from an academic standpoint," Vetter told the reporter.

A native of Africa, brown widows were established in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties as of 2009, and in 2010 made their way to Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. There have been a few finds in areas further north.

Southern California Public Radio KPCC ran an interview with Vetter about brown widows on Sunday. He said the brown widow seems to be displacing black widows - a fact that has benefits and disadvantages.

The brown widow is more likely to play dead than strike out aggressively, however, they tend to congregate in larger numbers and will hang out in places black widows ignore.

"(Brown widows will) be underneath a wrought iron railing or underneath those solar powered lights that you stick in the ground on your walkway. You would never find a black widow in that much of an exposed area," Vetter told the reporter. "It just goes from people having five or six black widows to having 50 to 100 brown widows. And that’s something that you typically would not ignore."

One of Vetter's greatest concerns is a resident's tendency to use more pesticides when confronted with more spiders.

"The spiders are responsible for increasing pesticide load," Vetter said.

For more information and links to Vetter's website, see the UC ANR news release about brown widow spiders. In the 90-second video below, Vetter gives tips for identifying brown widows.

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Posted on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 9:57 AM
Tags: brown widow (3), spiders (36)

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