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Wellington Daily News - Wellington, KS
  • Wellington black widow population booming in time for National Spider Day

  • Find out how one local person keeps the spiders as pets.
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  • As owner of TNT Pest Control, his mission seems simple – kill bugs.
    It's not that easy. Sometimes you get attached.
    Eric Mandevill has been making some unique friends -- friends that have eight legs and harness flesh-eating venom.
    He respects the arachnids that have been steadily populating Wellington.
    "Last year, there was an explosion of black widows nearly everywhere I went. This year is no different. I've been finding them everywhere, even out in the open," said Mandevill.
    With environmental changes, including an onslaught of crickets, black widows are booming.
    "The kicker about crickets? They'll get up right next to your house, hiding in the cracks in your foundation. Birds can't get to them. The black widows set up shop right next to your foundation and have a hay day," said Mandevill.
    There's no need to fear, Wellington.
    Although poisonous, the black widow is a reclusive spider. Avoiding the warmth of your bedroom, they prefer to live outdoors.
    As Mandevill noticed more and more black widows, he decided to start a commune for the critters.
    Catching them proves difficult.
    "I've definitely had to refine my technique," said Mandevill.
    "All spiders are nearly blind. Most have six to eight eyes, but they have very poor vision. What they lack in vision, they make up in other senses. They can hear us talking, or actually, feel us talking. It's the vibration."
    Mandevill quietly approaches the little buggers, armed with a can or jar. Delicately, he slowly traps the spider.
    He's had as many as five black widows living in his shop at once.
    Why keep such a dangerous pet?
    "Their webs are fascinating. It has stronger tensile strength than steel. Unlike steel, it will stretch. The web is kind of like a guitar string. You can pull it, let go, and it will bounce right back," said Mandevill.
    In fact, they secrete different webs for different jobs.
    "They have the strong anchor web, and then they have the sticky stuff that's almost like superglue. You can see it shining; it's clear, almost like diamonds," said Mandevill.
    After a fruitless hunt for a cricket dinner, it is finally time to meet his one-year-old girl – the only black widow Mandevill has left.
    "If two females are sharing a space, a fight to death usually ensues," said Mandevill.
    He's since learned to keep them in separate living quarters.
    As he removes the lid, the air is pungent.
    "It smells like death. It's pretty rancid, huh?" He pops the top of her small Tupperware apartment. She sits on her sticky hammock -- pieces of cricket and excrement lie below.
    Page 2 of 2 - Agitating his two-inch friend with a small screwdriver, she expels the infamous goo. The screwdriver quickly bonds to the secretion, and our eight-legged friend scampers into hiding.
    "See. I can barely pull the screwdriver out."
    After demonstrating the elasticity and strength of the spider's spindle, a quick photo shoot follows.
    "I haven't named her. It's hard to lose a pet when she has a name."
    Let's just hope Mandevill loses his spider to old age. If she runs away from home, there could be problems.
    If her escape plan works, for Mandevill's sake, hopefully she forgets the screwdriver incident.
    Help Mandevill celebrate National Save a Spider Day today, March 14. (It's a real day. Look it up.)
    You don't have to go as far as harboring an arachnid, let's just avoid squishing the little guys.
    (It's only for one day.)
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