a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Goodbye, Charlotte

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Goodbye, Charlotte

SUMMARY: She was only a volunteer spider, but still--

After my previous renters moved out in August of 2018, leaving empty kitchen cabinet shelves here and there, I opened my cereal cabinet one day to discover a messy web taking up an entire empty shelf, populated by a small brownish spider.  I don't mind spiders in my house as long as they're not somewhere super inconvenient or if they're likely to fall on or bite me. And all of those are rare, so for the most part, spiders stay.

That's because I clearly see that the spiders are finding critters to eat in my house, and I'll bet bottom dollar that I would not welcome those critters if I ever met them.

So I left her there. Her: Gender actually unknown, but after a couple of weeks, I named her Charlotte, because what else would one name a spider with whom one would have daily conversations?  She didn't stay small all that long.

She had long spindly legs and a huge abdomen. Hmm, said I, she has the shape of a (erk) black widow, yet she looks brown to me, not black.  Still, black widows have messy webs, none of those pretty ones you can take photos of.  I tried to take photos of her to identify her provenance. It was difficult, because every time I opened the cabinet door, she'd race across her web and tuck herself into the corner. (Note that when I say huge abdomen, her whole body was still still plenty smaller than the pegs that hold up the shelves.)

And I couldn't ever clearly see her belly to determine whether she had that red hourglass.  She was *always* upside down on her web, and near the back of the cabinet, and the web was pretty close to the upper shelf. Tried a couple of times.  Best I ever got, with my camera on a tripod, attempted prefocus, was this:

Sure looked like whitish markings, not red, and not a solid black body. So I took to the internet for more info. After perusing many, many spider sites and photos, I tentatively IDed her as a "false black widow."  (Note that there are many species of black widows, and many species commonly called "false black widow.") Posted the photo at spiderID.com, with my best guess about her species, and got this response, which set my fears to rest:
Hi, your description is very good. She’s probably a false widow, Steatoda grossa, I’m not certain from the side view. She has been eating well, which is exactly what you want from a spider in the house. The web is always messy looking and it gets dusty. They like enclosed spaces and darkness. Their sight is poor, they mostly use vibrations and basic light/dark sight to find prey and avoid large animals like humans. I’ve tried photographing the Steatoda species spiders that I let live in my house and it is difficult, they run from the flash or any other light source.

So, for 14 months, typically twice a day (open cabinet to get out cereal or whatever; open it again to put it away), I spoke to her.

"Hi, Charlotte."
"Hello, Charlotte."
"You're looking well fed today, Charlotte."
"Seriously, it's been months, don't you trust me yet?"  She never did trust me.

As time grew nearer for me to get a renter again, and knowing I'd need that shelf, I looked online determinedly for info on how to move a spider who has served me well, without tangling her in her own web, and without dropping her somewhere else in the house.  I found no help, and so I agonized (mildly) about it and did nothing, but the problem nagged in a tiny spot in the back of my head reserved for trivial things to be nagged about.

So, the human thing: You know, you identify a specific living thing. You name it. You talk to it every day. You give it a job title and monitor its performance. It becomes part of your life.

I cannot tell you how surprised I was when, yesterday morning upon opening the cabinet and finding her dead, I felt an immediate rush of grief and sorrow.  Which hasn't yet dissipated.

For a spider. Who never said hi, never trusted me. But who did a truly noble job of doing what I hired her to do: Remove insect vermin from my home.

Now I can clear out the web, reclaim the shelf, and marvel at an arachnid who, all unknowing, shared my life for a year and two months.  Goodbye, Charlotte, and thanks.


  1. I can understand how you'd become attached. Is 14 months a normal lifespan for a spider?

  2. One spider site said about a year is typical for house spiders. So maybe she lived longer than avg!