Recently, Okaloosa County Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel mentioned to me that she had seen brown widow spiders in parts of Okaloosa County on multiple occasions. Concerned about this and to provide better awareness of this spider, she asked if I could write an article about this spider.
Most people seem to be aware of the black widow spider but many people have never heard of the brown widow spider.
Brown Widow spider. UF/IFAS Photo: Thomas Wright
There are four widow spiders found in Florida. They include the southern black widow, northern black widow, red widow and brown widow. All are highly venomous but they are also timid. Bites usually occur when the spider can’t easily get away and becomes unintentionally caught between a person’s skin and clothes or when a person is reaching for something where a widow spider is hiding. A UF/IFAS Extension publication on brown widow spiders states, “According to Dr. G.B. Edwards, an arachnologist with the Florida State Collection of Arthropods in Gainesville, the brown widow venom is twice as potent as black widow venom. However, they do not inject as much venom as a black widow, are very timid, and do not defend their web.”
Widow spiders are about 1½ inches long with legs extended. All have rounded, relatively large abdomens. Both of the black widows are shiny black in color. The southern black widow possesses the classic red hourglass marking on the underside of its abdomen. While the northern black widow has two reddish triangles that resemble an hourglass on the underside of its abdomen and red spots in a row along the middle of its back. The red widow’s head, thorax and legs are reddish orange. Its abdomen is black and lacks a complete hourglass but there may be one or two red spots on the abdomen. The brown widow may be gray, light brown or black in color with an orange or yellowish-red hourglass marking on the underside of its abdomen.
Brown widow egg sac. Photo credits: Carolyn Ketchel
The brown widow egg sac looks different as compared to the other widow spiders. They are less than ½ inch in diameter with pointed white silk spikes on the surface which are not present on egg sacs of the other widow spiders. The egg sacs of the other widow spiders have smooth surfaces.
The brown widow likes to build its web in secluded, protected areas such as empty plant containers, mail boxes, building entry way corners, under eaves and inside of old tires.
More information on widow spiders is available from the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County or from the below links.
You’d be wise to learn to identify these spiders.
Adult and nymphs of mole crickets. Photo: Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS
The best time to treat for mole crickets is during June through July. But don’t treat at all if mole crickets have not been positively found and identified in the affected lawn areas.
Don’t worry about the adults that are seen flying around lights in the evenings or about the mole crickets found dead in swimming pools this time of year. They are in a mating phase and are doing very little to no damage to lawns during late winter and spring.
We can take advantage of the fact that there’s only one generation per year in North Florida. The eggs will have all hatched by mid to late June. At that time, you’re dealing with young mole crickets that can’t fly and that are much more susceptible to the insecticides designed to kill them. Mole crickets spend winter as adults in the soil. In late February and March, adults emerge and begin mating. Shortly after mating, males die and females fly to suitable areas for egg laying. Mated females deposit eggs in tunnels. After depositing her eggs the female dies. Attempting to control adult mole crickets during this mating period a waste of time, money and product. Plus, adult mole crickets are difficult to control and can easily fly out of treated areas.
You can easily determine if mole crickets are the cause for your lawn problem by flushing them out with a soap and water mixture.
Mix 1½ ounces of a lemon scented liquid dish-washing soap in two gallons of water in a sprinkling can or bucket. Pour the soapy water over an area approximately four square feet and count the number of mole crickets that emerge. It only takes several minutes for mole crickets to crawl to the surface after the soap treatment if they are present. Repeat the process around the yard where you suspect mole cricket problems. If you flush an average of two to four crickets are flushed out per site, control may be needed.
There are a number of insecticides on the market to control mole crickets. But before using any product, first identify the problem as mole cricket damage by using the soap flush technique. Then choose a lawn insecticide that lists mole crickets on its label. And finally read the label carefully for use directions, application techniques, irrigation requirements and precautions.
For more information on mole crickets, including recommended insecticides and other non-chemical control options, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County or access the following links.
Insect Pest Management on Turfgrass
Mole Cricket IPM Guide for Florida
Florida pusley is common summer annual weed. Photo credit: Larry Williams
If weeds were a problem in your lawn last summer, the coming weeks are the time to apply a pre-emergence herbicide to prevent their emergence again this spring and summer.
Timing of a pre-emergence herbicide application for summer annual weeds such as crabgrass should be during February when day temperatures reach 65° to 70°F for four to five consecutive days. This generally coincides with when azaleas and dogwoods first begin to bloom. This in not when these plants are in full bloom but when the first flowers begin to open along the lower branches, particularly on azaleas. Note: This timing is not true for chamberbitter. Chamberbitter requires warmer soil temperatures to germinate. Apply a pre-emergence herbicide during April when battling chamberbitter.
Most pre-emergent type herbicides won’t work when applied after weeds are visible. The product must be applied just before seedlings emerge.
The weeds growing now in local lawns are not summer annuals. Summer annual weed seeds are still dormant awaiting warmer spring temperatures to germinate and emerge.
Most of the weeds in yards now are winter annuals. A few include annual bluegrass, chickweed, henbit, hop clover, lawn burweed and wild geranium.
Winter annual weeds in lawn. Photo credit: Larry Williams
A pre-emergence herbicide should have been applied during October to help prevent these weeds.
A few common summer annual weeds include crabgrass, Florida pusley, chamberbitter, sandspur, spotted spurge and doveweed.
If your lawn has a history of summer annual weeds, one control option is to apply a pre-emergence herbicide. Timing is critical in order for pre-emergence herbicides to work.
Look for lawn pre-emergence products that contain the active ingredients oryzalin, benefin, pendimethalin, DCPA or bensulide.
For season-long weed control, a second application may be needed about six to nine weeks after the initial application. To activate some products, irrigation or rain may be necessary following application. Because pre-emergence products may interfere with lawn grass seed germination, delay re-seeding six to sixteen weeks after application.
Overuse of some types of pre-emergence herbicides can cause a lawn to produce short stubby weak roots. So only apply the product if there is a pest to control – in this case, if you have had a history of summer annual weeds. Otherwise, save your money and time. Use pre-emergence herbicides only on lawns that have been established for at least a year. These products can severely injure newly planted lawns.
It is the user’s responsibility to read and follow all label directions and precautions when using any pesticide, including herbicides.
Ice on Satsuma fruit from January 2014 ice storm in Crestview, FL. Photo credit: Larry Williams
Northwest Florida winters can be a rollercoaster ride of temperatures. One week it dips to freezing for a short time and the next week it rises to spring-like temperatures. We need to hold on for this ride of up and down temperatures but not over react too soon.
Following the sudden ride down to the lower temperatures, we may think winter is over. But we don’t see the next drop in temperatures that’s coming, as we are experiencing the ride upwards in temperatures.
On average, it’s not until we reach mid-March that we expect our last killing frost. A killing frost is heavy enough to kill tender plant growth. And, we can have light frosts well into the latter part of March and into early April. This is particularly true in the more northern portions of our Panhandle Counties.
The main point is to not get spring fever too early and encourage new plant growth by pruning or fertilizing too soon.
When landscape plants freeze, the first impulse may be to get out the pruning shears and cut away dead and dying leaves and branches. But this isn’t a good idea. Pruning can force new tender growth that is more likely to be injured by the next freeze. And, you can’t tell how much damage has been done until plants start new growth in spring. If you prune immediately after a freeze, you may cut away live wood that doesn’t have to be lost. Also, leaves and branches, which have been killed, can help protect the rest of a plant
Cold injury to lawn that happened March 31 in Crestview, FL. Photo credit: Larry Williams
against further cold injury.
Some people want to “jump start” their lawns before our weather will allow our grasses to grow. Waiting allows for more efficient use of the lawn fertilizer. You will not injury your lawn by
waiting but you can certainly injure your lawn by fertilizing too early.
So, have patience, allow your lawn to green up on its own and then fertilize, even if it’s not until April or May.
Finally, be a little philosophical. If you do lose one or two of your tender ornamentals, so what? Worse things could happen. And now you have a chance to add something new, perhaps some species native to our area that are not as subject to cold damage.
Even with this winter/spring rollercoaster ride, with thousands of plants to choose from and a generally mild climate, who can complain?
Improperly pruned crape myrtle tree. Photo credit: Larry Williams
Too often people hack away at crape myrtle trees and “butcher” them. The term “crape murder” was coined to describe this drastic topping of crape myrtles.
Properly selected and properly placed crape myrtles need little pruning. A crape myrtle that requires routine pruning to force it to fit into a smaller space should be considered for
replacement with a smaller-maturing cultivar. The real problem here is that you have the wrong plant in the wrong place. The person that planted the tree did not do their homework. To avoid having to annually “butcher” a nice tree, choose a smaller maturing crape myrtle.
After topping, the tree will insist on growing to its genetically designed size, again and again.
What crape myrtle trees are supposed to look like. Photo credit: Larry Williams
If you want a crape myrtle that will naturally stay below four feet in height, buy a dwarf cultivar such as Pocomoke. There are semi-dwarf cultivars that grow to about twelve feet or less in height such as Acoma. There are intermediate crape myrtles that top out at less than twenty feet in height such as Osage. And there are crape myrtles that grow greater than twenty feet in height such as the popular Natchez cultivar. Choose the right size plant to fit the selected space.
Topping trees is a bad practice. It weakens a tree by removing food reserves that were stored in the now removed wood. It also radically reduces the size of the canopy decreasing the plant’s ability to produce food
through photosynthesis. The large open cuts caused from topping invite wood-rotting organisms and ultimately decay. Topping results in many dead stubs throughout the tree. Topping a crape myrtle forces the tree to produce many unsightly root suckers. Ultimately, topping results in an ugly, odd-looking, higher maintenance and short-lived crape myrtle.
Note open wound, decay and weak attachment of multiple shoots as a result of improper pruning. Photo credit: Larry Williams
Many people believe crape myrtles have to be cut way back in order to produce an abundance of blooms. Flower clusters may be slightly larger on topped trees. But topping usually delays flowering up to one month and since the tree is smaller, it produces fewer flowers. The long, weak shoots supporting the large, heavy flower clusters on topped crape myrtles bend awkwardly and are more likely to break away from the plant.
When pruning crape myrtle trees, avoid cutting back or shortening branches much larger than your finger, although cutting larger branches back to a side branch or to the trunk when needed is fine.
More information on crape myrtle selection and care is available at the below links.