It wasn’t until a couple years later, when I finally had come around to processing some of my Florida photos, that I learned the numerous black and red spiders I encountered in the scrub palms in Seabranch Preserve State Park were red widow spiders, Latrodectus bishopi. Like their more famous, noir cousins, you don’t want to them to bite you. The stunning coloration had the dual effect of engaging my aesthetic sensibilities but making me cautious, even though I didn’t know exactly which spider I was dealing with. Essentially it would be a great subject to shoot, but it looked dangerous. The telltale sign was the aposomatic coloration (color as warning signal); that red is a natural world stop light.
It’s probably good that I’m a cautious driver in the photographic field (on the roads, too, if you’re wondering). In the color photo above, one of the large bright red spots on the abdomen is just visible. These were the highlights, photographic and topical, of the subject, but the reason I only barely captured that facet was because the red widows generally had tucked themselves deep into the cluster of rigid, pointy scrub palm fronds. I could get close enough without disturbing the spider to get good focus, but repositioning the fronds and startling the spider in an area where it might not have an easy escape path was not a fate I wanted to tempt. Honestly, I didn’t try too many times even though my frond inspections kept turning them up. I got some middling shots of the somehow intuitively less intimidating, smaller male version (which incidentally, as I have also learned, do not bite and do not pose a threat), but I didn’t get much further as the warning colors and less than ideal scrub palm setting were essentially the same as for the females.
It’s good to know what you’re up against, but if you’re in a strange land with strange beasts (which is Florida to a tee, right?) then recognizing warning signals can be a big boon to your well-being.
(P.s. Red widows are endemic to Florida, “primarily in sand-pine scrub habitats in central and southeast Florida, specifically from Marion County to Martin County,” according to BugGuide.net.)