Black Widow of the Hill


July 20, 1991|By DON C. FORESTER

My zoology laboratory assistant is a bright young Republican by the name of Tom Kuhar. Tom's mother happens to work for Representative Helen Delich Bentley. Some months ago, an undergraduate student gave me a female Black Widow spider he had collected in Southern Maryland. Since Tom has an interest in invertebrates, I asked him to set up a cage featuring the spider.

You can imagine my amusement when I saw the finished product -- a 10-gallon aquarium complete with water dish, leaf litter and a large identification card. The card read as follows:

NAME: Barbara Mikulski

CLASS: Arachinida

FAMILY: Theridiidae

Species: Lactrodectus mactans

''Black Widow Spider''

(The Ultimate Feminist)

Throughout the spring semester students watched in awe as ''Barbara'' constructed a shabby, erratic web in the upper corner of the cage. Her concern seemed focused on utility rather than beauty. She also strung a hodge-podge of silken strands across the main body of the aquarium and ruthlessly dispatched any and all insects which Tom offered up in the name of political sacrifice. In mid-June, ''Barbara'' shocked us all by producing a large, spherical cocoon full of eggs -- fertilized by a Saint Mary's County gigolo she had once taken to dinner.

''Barbara's'' life seemed to have slipped into a routine when a second Black Widow was brought into the lab. This one was from Baltimore County and I suggested, in fairness, that it be named Helen Delich Bentley.

Tom agreed and decided to place ''Helen'' into the cage with ''Barbara.'' When I raised an eyebrow, he snickered and suggested that this introduction mimicked real life. It turns out that Tom anticipates Ms. Bentley will soon challenge Ms. Mikulski for her senatorial seat.

Two mornings after ''Barbara'' and ''Helen'' had begun their forced cohabitation, I brought my zoology class into the prep room to see the spiders. I explained the cryptic wit associated with the name card and began to discuss the life history of the Black Widow. Suddenly one of the students interrupted to ask about a white, shriveled mass suspended about half an inch off the ground in one corner. Close inspection revealed it to be the remains of one of the spiders. Which one -- who can say?

All I know for certain is this -- a small cage can only support one Black Widow.

Don C. Forester writes from Fallston, Maryland.

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