I first learned about this spider several years ago, and was told that I could find them at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, which is near where I live. However, after years of trips in winter and spring out there looking for this species, I kept coming up empty. But last week for the first time I went out there this time of year, and low and behold I cam across two females while exploring. This individual was shot at night with a ring flash.
Latrodectus bishopi is a member of the widow genus, and is one of several species that can be found in Florida (L. mactans and L. geometricus are also here, and maybe L. variolus too). However, the Red Widow is endemic to central Florida in the scrub regions in the area of Lake Okeechobee. Unlike most widows, which prefer dark crevices building or under rocks and bark, this species builds its webs exclusively across the upper fronds of palmettos. The webs are large, spanning several feet across, and like most Therediids are very dense. The female creates a crevice by binding together the leaves of the palmetto and stays there until something makes its way into its web, then it comes out to bite it and feed. This individual is eating what appears to be a small scarab beetle of some kind.
The spiders themselves are very distinctive; there isn't anything else like it. The usual color pattern of a Black Widow looks almost reversed. The legs and cephalothorax are red, while the abdomen is black with extensive red markings. In my humble opinion it's one of the most beautiful spiders I've ever come across.