While many in the area know Kristen Barnett as the “Spider Lady,” it would also be correct to call her the Snake Lady, the Bird Lady, the Reptile Lady or the Millipede Lady.
The Forest West resident is building up a reputation as the go-to person when you find an unusual critter in your yard – and don’t want to touch it.
“My parents were animal loving,” Barnett said. “I grew up in Puerto Rico and we had snakes (and) a 6-foot iguana. My dad had a baby alligator at one point. My mom was a bird breeder. They didn’t want me to be afraid of anything.”
As a speech communication major in college, Barnett could have taken a different path when she moved to Houston. But a job as an assistant to an exotic veterinarian got her happily, and permanently, sidetracked.
“He was an avian specialist and handled all kids of exotics,” Barnett said. “I learned a lot about nighthawks and falcons.”
Once Barnett had a son, she quit the vet for a more flexible gig as a pet sitter. But her social media posts – both about her own collection of creatures, including tarantulas, millipedes, screaming cockroaches and a praying mantis, as well as her answers to other people’s questions – got her a lot of additional, unpaid, work.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Barnett left her house about five or six times a month to help people with unwanted guests. Recently, she removed a brown widow spider, which is not as dangerous as a black widow.
“It had a few egg sacks,” Barnett said. “It was in a weird spot in a slide by a pool. The minute I touched it, it does what widows do, rolled up in a ball.”
Since Barnett’s own black widow recently died, leaving an empty terrarium tank, Barnett said she may keep the brown widow if it isn’t proper to let it go.
“There is some disagreement whether brown widows are invasive,” Barnett said. (But) widows get a very bad rap. They do not want to bite. Most of the bites people think they have are actually a staph infection.”
Other out-of-the-ordinary visits include the rescue mission she undertook for a snake that was stuck to a glue trap. It went to the Texas Wildlife Center for rehabilitation. Also, after Hurricane Harvey, two different people contacted Barnett about ball pythons they found in their yards.
Barnett stresses that she is sometimes the middle man for wildlife rescue. If something is truly injured, she will transport it to get rehabilitation.
“If I get calls for falcons and hawks, I refer people to the wildlife center,” she said. “There are things I am not certified or qualified to do. There are other people who are better trained. I don’t generally work with venomous snakes either. I mostly do spiders, snakes, lizards and healthy birds that just got shocked (from flying into a window).”
She also said she is as much about education as she is relocation.
“I’m a big believer that everything has a place and a purpose,” Barnett said. “Once you can educate someone about what they’ve found, they are generally more comfortable. I like changing people’s minds.”
Barnett’s ever-growing home collection of between 50-60 tanks and terrariums is housed in a former guest room turned office and exhibit area.
Collection favorites include the Poecilotheria, an ornamental tarantula from Sri Lanka, as well as the Heteropoda davidbowie, named in honor of late musician David Bowie.
“It’s a leggy yellow spider,” she said. “Just beautiful.”
While Barnett said her son finds her “boring,” he likes millipedes and has been asking for beetle larva.
“I’ll have to think about that,” she said.
Barnett said that if she can’t help someone, odds are she knows who can. And she councils all to behave responsibly with their exotic pets.
“If you don’t want an animal, don’t just release it on your own,” she said. “We can find it a home.”