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ABOARD THE FUTURE USS FORT WORTH–They can deal with the occasional busted part or software glitch, and the hard work that accompanies resolving it. But one thing the sailors on the latest Littoral Combat Ship are getting a little fed up with is the big, ugly and menacing-looking spiders dangling around the new warship.
And there are many. The future USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) is infested with them. Some larger in diameter than golf balls, the brownish spiders show up in droves around sunset, spinning webs around railings to catch prey, or greet crew by suddenly pirouetting down from overhangs.
Their presence stems from prime contractor Lockheed Martin’s [LMT] partner for building the ships, Marinette Marine. The Wisconsin shipyard on the shores of Lake Michigan gets overrun with the spiders this time of year as they seek the fresh water to prey on insects, the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Randy Blankenship, said. It didn’t take long for them to get aboard the ship ahead of sailing Aug. 7.
“They inundated the crap out of the ship,” he said. “We’ve been thinking about going out and getting a big extermination kit.”
The critters aren’t harmful, he says, nor do they appear to have penetrated living quarters like the mess room and bunks. But the arachnids are–at the very least–a nuisance around the mission bay, bridge and deck areas of the ship.
“It’s annoying. It’s annoying as can be,” Blankenship said, adding he wants the ship to be a presentable as possible during its Sept. 22 commissioning ceremony in Galveston, Texas.
Blankenship predicted their population will dissipate at sea as food sources dwindle. There were even more when the ship initially got underway, when measures taken by the crew to rid themselves of the creatures proved fruitless.
“We were out there with friggin’ water hoses. Fire mains. 50 PSI going after those suckers,” Blankenship said. “Those little resilient bastards came right back.”
An extension entomologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Phil Pellitteri, said the spider’s presence will dissipate because they’ll run out of insects to eat at sea. Even if they make it to laying eggs, the newborns will have nothing to feed on and will quickly die.
“When they hatch, they’re in big trouble,” he said.
By examining a grainy cell phone photo sent through email, Pellitteri identified them as belonging to the orb weaver family of spiders and confirmed they’re harmless. The large webs they spin could have easily allowed them to be picked up by wind and blown onto the ship, he said.
The orb weaver is a “late summer” spider, Pellitteri said, meaning they could have infiltrated the ship after it was delivered to the Navy in early June and remained at Marinette before its departure earlier this month. Michael Draney, an entomologist at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, said the orb weavers on the ship could be of the Larinioides sclopetarius species, which is also know as the "bridge spider" because it’s the "only spider in our region that is usually willing to spin its orb web on metal."
Lockheed Martin said it was unaware of the problem. "We weren’t aware of a spider issue on board LCS-3," a company spokeswoman said. "We can work with the Navy on a solution if needed."
Regardless of when or how the spiders came aboard, the crew wasn’t thrilled about their unwanted shipmates.
“The ship’s (bleeping) infested with them,” said one sailor. “We’ve got to live with them, I guess,” added another one before dropping a few expletives and concluding with: “It’s ridiculous.”
For some members of the crew, the spiders can be a source of entertainment during long night watch shifts. With food becoming scarce at sea, the spiders start going at each other, as one of the vessel’s chiefs noted.
“They’re awesome. They are fighting right now because they don’t have any food. We stand six-hour watches and it can be boring, and (spider brawling) takes up a good four hours,” Chief Matthew Moore said before reminding himself of his captain’s presence. “We’re still being vigilant, of course, but we can’t help it because they’re right there.”
Pellitteri said attempting to eat each other could be one reason for the fighting, but it may also have to do with their “brutal way of mating.”