Some 35,000 named species of spiders occupy Planet Earth, scientists say, and many thousands more have yet to be identified and named. Of those, some 3,500 species are native to North America. Yet remarkably few of those spider species are poisonous to humans. In California, including here in Sacramento, the spider that poses the greatest danger to humans is the black widow.

Here at Pinnacle Pest Control, we’re getting about four calls a day about black widow spiders, primarily from customers in the Elk Grove, Roseville, and Rocklin areas. Less than six months ago, we received a call about a customer of ours getting bit by a black widow spider. He’s fine now but was hospitalized for three days. The spider was living in one of his shoes. (He likes to wear loafers barefoot.)

The mature female black widow is larger than the male of the species, with a shiny, bulbous black abdomen and body length of about 5/16 to 5/8 inches, not counting its legs. The underside of the female’s abdomen is distinguished by red or orange markings in the shape of an hourglass. The male looks different, with a less pronounced abdomen, mottled grey-green markings overall, and a lighter, yellowish hourglass marking on his underside. If you are bitten, the female black widow is the likely culprit.spiders, primarily from customers in the Elk Grove, Roseville, and Rocklin areas. Less than six months ago, we received a call about a customer of ours getting bit by a black widow spider. He’s fine now but was hospitalized for three days. The spider was living in one of his shoes. (He likes to wear loafers barefoot.)

Black widows have a voracious appetite for insects, and as a result are often found out of doors or in garden sheds, garages, attics and cellars. They are nocturnal, and like to live in places where they can remain hidden by day, emerging to hunt at night. Thanks to their love of hidden places, you may have an unwelcome encounter with them while organizing your potting bench, rearranging your storage shed, or cleaning your garage. Curious kids and pushy pups also can be at risk. Be sure to wear gardening gloves when cleaning up yard waste, and shake out globes and boots before putting them on if they’ve been sitting around your garage for a while.

Initially a black widow bite may feel like a pinprick or bee sting, and you may see redness or a red streak at the bite site, with other symptoms coming on within the hour. Although the bite of a black widow is unlikely to be fatal, it can cause severe pain, muscle cramps, sweating, nausea and other uncomfortable symptoms, with increased danger for very young children, seniors and those with compromised immune systems. If you believe you or a family member have suffered a black widow bite, call your doctor immediately.

The black widow spider is sometimes mistaken for a couple of imposters who also appear in California: the brown widow, which has a mottled tan, brown, and gray, with an orange and yellow “hourglass”; and the false black widow, which is smaller than the mature black widow, chocolate brown in color and has no red marking on its underside. Neither of these is a true “California girl” but rather immigrated to the Golden State, the brown widow from Africa, the false black widow from Europe. Although these two also may bite, they are less venomous than the black widow. Primarily found in the southern part of the state, they have been gradually expanding their territory.

Although many spiders serve a beneficial purpose in the ecosystem and are harmless to humans, the black widow, when living in our homes and yards can pose a serious risk to children, pets and the hapless weekend gardener. Your pest control professional can correctly identify the types of spiders occupying your home or garden and advise you on ways to remove and prevent them from moving into your space. Meanwhile, be sure you shake out your loafers before sticking them on your bare feet!

Sources: http://www.explorit.org/science/spider.html; http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74149.html

With cooler fall weather on its way—we hope!—perhaps with some much needed rain, many of the pests most common and dangerous in our Sacramento region begin to look for warm, snug places to ride out the winter. One of those most likely to move into your home or commercial building is the roof rat, otherwise known as Rattus rattus.

Neither Rattus rattus nor its relative, the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) are California natives; both originated in Asia and spread over most of the world centuries ago. The roof rat is smaller than its Norwegian relative, weighing 5 to 10 ounces, and is light gray or near-white in color, with a pointed snout, long ears and a long black tail the length of its body. The Norway rat larger, averaging 7 to 18 ounces, is darker in color, with short ears and tail.

Many of us think of rats as ground-dwelling creatures who scurry along alleys and under the bushes. But Rattus rattus is a climber, and your cozy, insulated attic looks mighty inviting as a place to nest and raise a litter of baby rats. The roofs of many buildings harbor handy entryways for these resourceful, smart and dangerous critters—unscreened ventilation vents, bent or torn flashing around chimneys and pipes, even missing or damaged shingles. Likewise, overhanging tree branches, pergolas and rain gutters offer rats an easy climb to gain access. One local homeowner we know saw a rat scurrying off her roof and over a backyard pergola around twilight one evening, only to lose sight of him in some tree branches. A flashlight revealed the rat’s destination: It was hanging upside down from a tree branch by its back claws, munching on a bird-food bell hung from the same branch.

Signs you have rats can include droppings near pet bowls, food containers or recycling bins; signs of digging near fences or around sheds; the sight of a rat traveling a utility line or tree branch at dusk; or even a rat carcass presented to you by the family pet. But often, particularly in the case of roof rats, you will hear them: scurrying or scuffling sounds, even squeaks or squeals, coming from overhead as you lay in bed late at night.

Disney cartoons aside, Rattus rattus is no laughing matter. Rats eat and contaminate human and animal food and are prodigious chewers fond of electrical wiring. They have been known to chew through phone wires and have been blamed for electrical fires. Roof rats carry many diseases dangerous to humans and pets, including typhus, leptospirosis, trichinosis, salmonella, ratbite fever and plague. Insulation material makes great nesting material, and they often leave it shredded and fouled with urine and feces.

Our pest control company has been assisting homeowners and business owners in eliminating rats for many years. But until recently, there was little we could do to mitigate the structural damage and unsanitary conditions left behind. That’s why we will be rolling out a brand new service, just in time for cool-weather rat season, that will include repair of any structural damage, removal of all contaminated insulation and rat waste, sanitization of the area, and replacement of insulation with a new, environmentally safe blown insulation product that will actually deter rats, insects and other pests from taking up residence in your attic in the future.

Our pest control technicians are already undergoing training in this new product line, and we’ll be telling you more about this new service soon. It is a service our customers have been requesting for some time, and we’re glad to be able to respond—not only in getting the rats out of our customers’ attics, but in returning their homes or commercial spaces to safe, sanitary and healthful conditions.

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