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Citizen Scientists Sought for Spider Survey in the Santa Monica Mountains

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Photo by cordfish via Flickr

Photo by cordfish via Flickr
It was thanks to the Spider Survey at the Natural History Museum that we know Brown Widows live in California. Before then, when it was discovered by a young student on a museum field trip in Torrance around 2001, there was no official record of it. The lesson of that discovery is that scientists can't be everywhere, but the public at-large can be.

Tomorrow at the National Park Service headquarters in Thousand Oaks, the museum's Jan Kempf will present a lecture on the survey's efforts in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. An update on Brown Widows and other spiders that are found on local hiking trails will be given, as well as how people can get involved with the project.

Although the black widow is common, its brown cousin's discovery "caused quite a bit of excitement," says Brent "The Bug Guy" Karner, who runs the museums' invertebrate collection. Brown widows are "potentially dangerous," but are "less inclined to bite than black widows," he said, emphasizing that there have been no deaths to spider bites in this country in four decades.

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Antidotally, since the brown widow population has expanded, scientists are finding that they are displacing black widows, says Karner. "I think it's cool that they've established here, whether we helped them move or they moved on thier own," he said. "They're very adaptable and a new spider we have to learn to live with, which is not very difficult to do."

Occasionally, people mistake brown widows, among other brown spiders like wolf and cornish, for brown recluses. Karner says there are no records, from any agency--not even bug exterminators--of them living in California.

Tomorrow's lecture with Kempf is at 2 p.m. at the National Park Service Visitor Center on 401 West Hillcrest Drive in Thousand Oaks.

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