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Environment & Science

The itsy bitsy spider explosion coming to Southern California




A female Brown Widow spider guards her eggs in photo taken Sept., 2004 near Archer, Fla. adjacent to a spa pump.  The Brown Widow, a relative of the famous Black Widow spider, rarely bites unless provoked or her eggs are endangered.  The potency of the Brown Widow is said to be twice as powerful as the Black Widow. Both of these spiders are found routinely under chairs left outside, under porches, and around garden equipment. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)
A female Brown Widow spider guards her eggs in photo taken Sept., 2004 near Archer, Fla. adjacent to a spa pump. The Brown Widow, a relative of the famous Black Widow spider, rarely bites unless provoked or her eggs are endangered. The potency of the Brown Widow is said to be twice as powerful as the Black Widow. Both of these spiders are found routinely under chairs left outside, under porches, and around garden equipment. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)
PHIL SANDLIN/AP

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Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown declared the drought officially over

We've all seen the before and after pictures ...

Wildflowers underscore the Pacific coast at Big Sur, Calif., is shown in this undated photo. (AP Photo)
Wildflowers underscore the Pacific coast at Big Sur, Calif., is shown in this undated photo. (AP Photo)
AP

Winter rains have replenished fallow fields ...

In this Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, photo, Briones Reservoir is seen near capacity in Orinda, Calif.  More than 40 percent of California has emerged from a punishing drought that covered the whole state a year ago, federal drought-watchers said Thursday, Jan. 12,  a stunning transformation caused by an unrelenting series of storms in the North that filled lakes, overflowed rivers and buried mountains in snow. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
In this Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, photo, Briones Reservoir is seen near capacity in Orinda, Calif. More than 40 percent of California has emerged from a punishing drought that covered the whole state a year ago, federal drought-watchers said Thursday, Jan. 12, a stunning transformation caused by an unrelenting series of storms in the North that filled lakes, overflowed rivers and buried mountains in snow. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Ben Margot/AP

They've made our hillsides more verdant, giving rise to bunches of wildflowers ...

In this March 19, 2017, photo, visitors walk among the poppy bloom at Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in Lancaster, Calif. Rain-fed wildflowers have been sprouting from California's desert sands after lying dormant for years - producing a spectacular display that has been drawing record crowds and traffic jams to desert towns. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
In this March 19, 2017, photo, visitors walk among the poppy bloom at Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in Lancaster, Calif. Rain-fed wildflowers have been sprouting from California's desert sands after lying dormant for years - producing a spectacular display that has been drawing record crowds and traffic jams to desert towns. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
Richard Vogel/AP

But with the extra green comes extra critters to munch on it. And the things that like to munch on those critters.

Entomologist Lenny Vincent holds a plastic tube containing a brown widow spider that he and a team of students and other scientists gathered for research. Scientists are trying to learn more about this relatively new species and where it came from July 15, 2011.
Entomologist Lenny Vincent holds a plastic tube containing a brown widow spider that he and a team of students and other scientists gathered for research. Scientists are trying to learn more about this relatively new species and where it came from July 15, 2011.
Mark Boster/LA Times via Getty Images

That's right, spiders. 

"I expect there to be a bumper crop this year now that the drought has officially ended," says Brian Brown. He's curator of entomology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. 

"We have a lot more plant growth so that we have a lot more insects that feed on those plants available for the spiders to eat," he continues. "We have moister conditions for the spiders to live in. Not so many of them will just desiccate and dry out because of the dry conditions." 

Brown says no one knows how the drought impacted the insect kingdom, but the research community has a rough idea: less food equals fewer bugs, meaning fewer spiders. But happy days are here again for arachnids. 

As the population continues to grow, those who take a moment to examine them before hitting them with the nearest object might notice that there's a newer spider in town: the brown widow. 

"They are obviously new to the area. People see something, and they say 'I've never seen this kinda spider before. It looks like a black widow but it has a Caltrans orange hourglass on its underside.' That's one that we get the most calls about," Brown says. 

Brown says that the brown widow came from South Africa. It thrives in the warm climate. They likely made their way here clinging to the underbelly of shipping containers. 

"Spiders are great hitchhikers ... They're naturals for being distributed by human activity," Brown says. 

The curator of entomology says the widows started coming to Southern California about 15 years ago, squeezing out our resident spider: the black widow. Brown widows went on to take over some of their favorite hiding spots.

"Brown widows are found under almost every piece of yard furniture in the Los Angeles area," Brian Brown says. "So if you're wondering if you have them, look under your garden chair in the back yard. If you see any webbing, you've likely got them there."

But Brown says there are two reasons why you shouldn't worry:

"Number one, we don't hear about legions of people being [bitten] by them, and that's because — number two — they're not very aggressive."

Brown says you still might want to watch where you're putting your hands when you're outside.

That is, unless you want to make a new friend. 

Jayme Necaise, a staff entomologist with the Audubon Nature Institute, poses for a photograph with a brown widow spider and her egg sacks at their facility in New Orleans on Monday, Oct. 9, 2006. Brown widow spiders, usually found deep in the woods, have been found in yards in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Jayme Necaise, a staff entomologist with the Audubon Nature Institute, poses for a photograph with a brown widow spider and her egg sacks at their facility in New Orleans on Monday, Oct. 9, 2006. Brown widow spiders, usually found deep in the woods, have been found in yards in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
ALEX BRANDON/AP

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