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From under the rocks, yet another pest emerges

Sunday, June 28, 2009


For the past several days, Anne Bookout has been avoiding her stone walls and doing yard work only in grassy areas.

Treatment Typically, the stone walls and other nooks around her outside gardens don't scare her, but ever since an exterminator discovered black widow spiders hanging in stone crevices, Bookout has been careful about where she gardens.

"It gave me the willies," Bookout said.

Bookout, who owns more than an acre, decided to have her West Goshen property inspected after her extermina tion company treated a place infested with more than 200 black widows in Elkton, Md.

John Moore, an entemologist with Royal Pest Management of West Chester, inspected Bookout's property last Thursday and exterminated the Grubbs Mill Road site on Monday. In all, at least five black widows were discovered, he said.

"Under normal conditions, I could search all day in Chester County and only find one," Moore said. "I've been in business over 20 years, and I haven't seen them in numbers like this."

Moore said the spiders are more prevalent this year because the past winter brought extreme conditions and followed several mild winters. He said black widows die in warm winters because the spiders prefer to hibernate during cold winter conditions.

Moore said he was bitten by a black widow three weeks ago, but a black widow's bite has less than a 1 percent mortality rate for people, and most such deaths occur with infants, the elderly or the sick. He said the symptoms can resemble "extreme food poisoning" and a person may not even feel the bite. Symptoms include muscle aches, headaches and nausea, with abdominal muscles most commonly affected.

"On a scale of one to 10, the pain is about a 12," Moore said. "For some people, the abdomen muscles are so sore, they can't even stand up."

Bookout said she called several local health departments and a poison control center to raise local awareness of the spiders.

Bookout's husband, Dixon Teter, took similar steps after he discovered his landscape design business's property was infested. He said he notified several colleagues and clients about the spiders. Although Teter experienced firsthand the discovery of four black widows in 10 minutes, he said some of his colleagues were dismissive of the threat.

"They won't kill, but they'll make you wish you were dead," Teter said. "You have to be proactive."

While exterminating, Moore used a flashlight and mirror to search for the spiders. In several rocky crevices, toads that prey on black widows were discovered, Moore said.

Black widows have three main species and can be distinguished by a red hour glass shape on their exterior. The species found in Maryland and West Chester belongs to its northern type.

Although the spiders won't typically harm humans, they will attack when agitated.

Moore said people who work outside, such as landscapers, are in danger and must be cautious when dealing with areas that don't "receive much attention."

Moore said spiders are usually not found indoors, but garages can house black widows.

For more information on summer pest prevention, call Royal Pest at 1-800-769-2573 or write us through the contact page. We are always happy to answer questions or stop by for a home inspection at no charge.

© 2009, a Journal Register Property

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