When Mark and Barb Harman built their home on a wooded property at the end of a mile-long driveway, they knew they would be dealing with insects.
But two weeks ago when Mark Harman went to brush leaf debris off a ladder, it exposed a black spider unlike any he had ever seen before.
When he showed it to his wife, she knew it was a black widow.
"He said, 'No, we don't have black widows around here,'" recalled Barb Harman, 45, of North Hopewell Township.
After putting the spider in a container and searching online, their research confirmed it was in fact a black widow.
"We thought maybe it was a southern black widow, but what we've learned is that it is a northern black widow, because they have the miniature red spots on their black," Barb said. "We have actually found both kinds, and from what I understand they are hyperbreeding all over our property."
There has been an increase in spider populations this year, and Steve Jacobs, an entomologist with the Department of Entomology at Penn State University, said he thinks the mild winter is playing into that increase.
Black widows are not uncommon in Pennsylvania, and they hang out anywhere there are good insects for them to catch, Jacobs said.
"You can find them in sheds, underneath overhangs or other protected locations, possibly on tarps and woodpiles," he said. "Just check your property and keep an eye out."
They do carry poisonous venom, and a black widow spider bite will leave two small red marks the size of a pinprick that will eventually swell up similarly to a bee sting, he said.
"If you do get bitten by one of them, you're going to hurt for a while," Jacobs said.
When you have a spider bite you should seek medical attention, he said.
"The thing that you see first is how shiny they are, and the red spots," Barb Harman said. "They almost like to cocoon themselves, and they hide."
Black widow spider webs are asymmetrical, she said.
"Critters, insects and spiders are a way of life for us, so at first we just thought it was a fluke," said Barb.
But a week later Mark found a second black widow, and this one was on one of their children's toys.
"That wasn't comforting; we kind of put the kids on lockdown," said Barb.
After he found a third black widow, they decided to start searching for the spiders, because up until that point they had only been finding them accidentally. That day they found 15 black widows, she said.
An exterminator came and blanketed their property two weeks ago.
"I think they were hesitant to believe us," Barb said. "They said in the 20 years they have been in business they have only gotten a handful of calls for black widows, and never for as many as we have.
"After they sprayed, we found 15 that were alive, and at that point we felt defeated," Barb said.
Their black widow count is more than 30 now.
The Harmans built their North Hopewell Township home in 2001 and planned to stay forever, but the spider outbreak caused them to consider moving.
For now, they will redo the landscaping of their property, getting rid of stone walls and other areas where spiders tend to dwell, she said.
"We are going to change the environment and make it so that it is not an environment where they want to be," said Barb.
None of their neighbors have ever had black widows, and everyone they talk to is surprised black widow spiders are even in York County.
"Someone said that because of the mild winter they weren't able to die out completely, and only the strong survive through the bad winter," Barb said. "So we're hoping for a really, really harsh winter this year."
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