Aspen Elementary School 1st graders’ black widow spider. Photo by Angelique Harshman/
The Aspen Elementary School students didn’t know what they would find on their outdoor excursion to the Homestead Trail, but they were all excited.
As part of PEEC’s Pajarito Plateau Field Science curriculum, the first graders were investigating spiders and insects, turning over rocks, looking closely at tree bark, and inspecting rotting logs.
We were finding lots of evidence of spiders – old spider webs and silken spider egg sacs, but not too many actual spiders.
But upon turning over a basketball-sized rock, a large black spider was found clinging to the underside. Several students and I peered at its abdomen – there were the tell-tale red marks of a female black widow spider!
It sat still as all the kids came to take a look. No one was scared of this venomous spider; it’s non-aggressive and only bites in self-defense. I took several pictures with my cell phone, promising the teacher I would send them to her.
But we were puzzled. Although we definitely saw red markings on her underside, a female black widow spider’s abdomen is usually a shiny black. This spider’s legs were jet black, but the abdomen was a brownish color. And the abdomen was huge, measuring about .5 inches across!
Later I learned that depending on the species, female black widow spider abdomens can reach .5 inches, with their whole body measuring up to 1.5 inches (a little bigger than a paperclip.)
And when a spider is very well fed, the black pigment in the abdomen gets stretched and can look brownish or even purple. This was exactly what we had found – a very large and well-fed black widow spider.
Eventually we carefully turned the rock back over and let the spider continue her efficient business of catching and eating insects.
This exciting and surprising find, prompted the students to start turning over every rock they saw. But we made sure to turn each rock back over, respecting the animals’ homes.
We did find other spiders that day. One was a trap door spider hiding in its silken tunnel. We found a few insects like flies, plus lots of little millepedes.
It was a great day of discovery, of looking closely for little creatures that we tend to overlook.
So, if you see students out and about on the playgrounds and trails around the Los Alamos and White Rock elementary schools this spring, they may be searching for spiders, investigating an anthill, or collecting rocks – all in the name of science, and fun!
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories from the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) leading up to its annual Earth Day Festival set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, April 20 at PEEC, 3540 Orange St., in Los Alamos.
This year’s Earth Day Festival will feature displays by community groups of their earth-friendly products and practices and their information about our environment on the Pajarito Plateau.
- Over 20 booths
- Food vendors
- Live entertainment by Clan Tynker and the Hill Stompers
- Kids activities, including “Walk Like a Wolf”, the “Mudpie Kitchen” and making miniature adobes with the Cornerstones Community Partnership.
For more information, e-mail EarthDay@PajaritoEEC.org or visit http://www.pajaritoeec.org/programs/earthday/earthday2013.php