A short story of two White-eyes and a spider

A couple of days ago I was standing on our deck in the late afternoon, watching the sun go down. I saw something fluttering near the garden wall. Hoping that it was the sunbirds I’d been trying to get photos of, I rushed inside to get a camera. It wasn’t the sunbirds after all, but what I saw was quite intriguing. Two Cape White-eyes were clinging to the bricks of the garden wall. I only managed to get this quick shot of them before they flew away again. If you want more information and better photos go to the Wikipedia article here, or for some really spectacular photos of Cape White-eyes click here.

Cape White-eyes clinging to garden wall

So I started wondering about this odd behaviour, and went to go and have a look at the wall the next morning. I found that there were a lot of cracks and crevices in the wall. Some where the cement holding the bricks together had obviously been washed out by rain, but some looked hollowed out by some insect or animal. White-eyes mainly eat insects.

Cracks and crevices in the garden wall

After looking further along the wall I came across this interesting sight. Inside a deep crevice was a spider web, with two egg sacs towards the outside of the crevice. Looking in I could just make out a spider shape (which can’t be clearly seen on the photo). Thinking those egg sacs look awfully like the ones the Brown Button or Widow spiders produce, I emailed the photograph to somebody from The Spider Club, for a positive identification.

A spider web and egg sacs

And the answer is YES, it is a Brown Button or Widow spider! I was so hoping that I was wrong about this . . . I really don’t really feel comfortable having poisonous spiders so close to our house. Where there is one of these, there is bound to be more!

In her email reply to me, Astri Leroy from The Spider Club says:

Those egg sacs are of the common and widespread Brown Button Spider or alternatively Brown Widow Spider, Latrodectus geometricus, one of the few spiders with venom that can hurt people. But they pose little danger because they stay in their webs unless seriously disturbed. You very seldom see the spider itself and like all spiders, they will only bite if squashed against the skin (in clothing, say) or otherwise mis-handled and then only as a very last resort, usually when they are about to die. They are in and around most homes in South Africa but there are very few records of bites.

So don’t be alarmed, just warned not to squish her in your fingers or pull her legs off! I know you won’t!

Well Astri, you can be assured that I’m not going to get that close to these spiders!

I have previously written a post about poisonous spiders called A Note on Venom (click here to read it).

Brown Button or Widow Spider (Latrodectus) Egg Sac (Photo Source: Wikipedia)

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Categories: Nature/Environment, Random


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at https://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com and http://southerncape.wordpress.com (my photoblog)


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22 Comments on “A short story of two White-eyes and a spider”

  1. January 23, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    I started to read your blog and I thought “I wish I had a garden like this” . I went on reading and I reformulated my wish, just in case!! “I wish I had a garden like this without spiders!” LOL

    You know, I´m basically a city girl, I´ve always lived in this large, cemented city. Once I went to the low mountains and I was hiking together with a photographer and a local. I saw a huge spider, black, velvetish and I stopped to look at it. The spider was like “waving at me” and I said “how cute” and the local grabbed my arm and said “get the hell out of here”. The spider was about to attack me and I didn´t know, I thought it was cute. It was poisoning, lethal poisoning. And I didn´t know. Both the photographer and the local laughed at me and I did it as well. But never came close to those spiders again!!

    • January 23, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

      LOL Your story about your “cute” spider was funny! Although probably not for you at the time. Can you remember what kind of spider it was?

      I am all in favour of nature . . . just as long as the dangerous bits stay far away from me!

  2. bagnidilucca
    January 23, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    Those birds are very cute. We are fairly used to living wth spiders in Australia. They don’t bother me, I just keep my distance.

    • January 23, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

      Ah, but you’re Australian . . . much tougher than us wimpy South Africans. What with having the 14 most deadliest snakes and spiders like the Sydney funnel web spider, I’d guess you’re trained from birth! 🙂

  3. January 23, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    I don’t believe it – I think we have the same spider with egg sacs living on/under the handle of our garage door at the moment!! Two/three weeks ago, I put my hand on the handle to open the door, and got it completely entangled in the web. I hadn’t been paying attention, what with trying to hold onto car keys, house keys, wallet, cellphone, etc.

    Thank god, it didn’t bite me, though I’m sure she got as big a fright as I did. I dropped everything and did a leap backwards that might well have broken the Olympic record for Leaping Backwards In Fright.

    Neither hubby nor I like to … erm … kill things, even insects or creepy crawlies (siiiigggghhh…), butwe couldn’t figure out how to evict her and her brood safely either, so as you can imagine I’ve been very nervous of opening the garage door for the last few weeks.

    It’s too dark to look now, but tomorrow morning, I’m going out there with my camera to take some macro-shots to compare with yours. I have to know what kind of spider that is, and if we should be allowing her to procreate so prolifically on our garage door handle!

    • January 23, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

      When I read that email from The Spider Club lady, I almost started to hyperventilate, because I’m pretty sure that I saw similar egg sacs in our post-box a while back. Our post-box is a pillar constructed of the same kind of brick as the garden wall. Willie is also sure he saw the same thing . . .

      Those eggs sacs on our wall were about 8 – 10 mm in diameter. Would be interested to know if yours is also a Brown Button spider. The sentence in the email I received which says “They are in and around most homes in South Africa” is NOT reassuring to me. I’ve always been quite tolerant of spiders in our house. Now every spider is going to be examined closely!

      By the way, I’m surprised somebody isn’t already paying you for writing your blog. You’re doing a great job of promoting South Africa.

  4. January 23, 2011 at 11:30 pm #

    There are so many interesting things going on right outside your door! Good job on the quick shot of those beautiful Cape White-eyes.

    I found those egg sacs disturbing when I saw them in your original blog post! I can’t believe you ended up finding some so close to home. You are wise to refrain from pulling their legs of or otherwise harassing them…. 🙂

    • January 24, 2011 at 6:03 am #

      Since I started taking photos, I’m paying more attention to what is happening around me. Looking more closely at things. It is quite amazing what I’m seeing.

      Wish the light had been better for the Cape White-eye photo . . . maybe they’ll come back. And eat the spiders!

      Seeing the egg sacs up close disturbed me far more than you could imagine! Don’t you just love these comments from The Spider Club people?!

      • January 24, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

        I agree! The world seems more interesting and beautiful because I’m trying to find interesting things to blog about 😀 Love the birds and the spiders!


      • January 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

        Living where you do, finding interesting things to blog about shouldn’t be a problem. 🙂

  5. jacquelincangro
    January 24, 2011 at 1:08 am #

    Amazing photos! Those Cape White-eyes are adorable. How cool that you were able to get a shot of the spiders’ egg sacs. Whoa!

    Coincidentally as I type this a repeat of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is playing on tv, just at the scene where Frodo gets wrapped in the web by the giant black widow spider. I’m sure that won’t happen to you! LOL! 🙂

    • January 24, 2011 at 6:06 am #

      Thanks! “Cool” isn’t a word I would use to describe the spider egg sacs! Although The Spider Club person was very happy for me to send them such a “great picture”.

      “Thanks” also for reminding me of the spider scene in Lord of the Rings! Now I’m going to have spider nightmares again . . . 🙂

  6. January 24, 2011 at 4:46 am #

    Totally fascinating, as usual. The birds are darling. The spiders, a little less so. Have to admit I’ve never seen spider egg sacks before. Funny-looking, really.

    Love learning what I do here. Thanks, Lisa!

    • January 24, 2011 at 6:15 am #

      Those spiky spider sacs are specific to that kind of spider.

      According to Wikipedia: “The brown widow is found in parts of the southeastern, southern and southwestern United States (including Florida, Alabama, California, Oklahoma, Nevada, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas); . . . They are usually found around buildings in tropical areas.”.

      So they don’t mention Kentucky, but I guess some could have crawled over from Tennessee! Maybe it gets too cold in Kentucky though. Wonder about Haiti?! 🙂

  7. Sarita Botha
    January 24, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    This is very scary!! I would suggest you stay far away.

    • January 24, 2011 at 9:06 am #

      Yes, it is scary. And I think there’s another Brown Button spider living in our post-box. Much as I’m beginning to appreciate spiders, these ones are NOT going to be allowed to take up residence in our house!

  8. January 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    Ah, I love the little witogies … too cute. I’ve never seen them cling to a wall before – amazing what they’ll do for food. And oh, those spiders – yikes. Take care!
    Sunshine xx

    • January 24, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

      Yes, the birds are cute. I’ve never seen them cling to a wall like that either. I would probably never have noticed the spiders, if the birds hadn’t been there.

  9. January 24, 2011 at 9:02 pm #

    I keep coming back to look at those little birds. The way they are “posing” almost make them look like bookends, or a mirror image.

    As for the spiders, did your spider club contact tell you what their natural enimies are? Apart from birds, that is? If it’s another type of spider, maybe someone can find it and send you a couple – just to even the odds 😉

    Are you doing clothing inspection now – you know, just to be sure that you don’t accidentally squash one of those against your skin? Don’t go dreaming about spiders tonight!

    • January 25, 2011 at 6:08 am #

      I don’t know what eats spiders besides birds. Lizards and geckos probably.

      No, no, no I do not want another type of spider in my garden. One that can kill a Brown Button spider will probably be even more poisonous than the BB spider!

      Thank you very much for reminding me not to dream about spiders. Between you and Jacquelin above, I’m not going to get any sleep!

  10. January 28, 2011 at 4:33 am #

    I can only imagine your alarm while learning more about the spiders you have living so close by! But very interesting and fascinating photos of the spiky egg sacs and the birds. I love how one discovery leads to another, totally unexpected one.

    • January 28, 2011 at 7:09 am #

      Yes, I wouldn’t never have seen the spiders if I hadn’t spotted the birds first. It so often pays to watch birds or animals, and then take a look at what they’re interested in. We have since found more of these “delightful” spiders in our post-box!

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