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The Brown Recluse

by Nikki Fox

Here are some useful facts for you on one of the most dangerous spiders known to man...

What does it look like?
The brown recluse spider (Loxosceles spp.) is a poisonous spider that is light brown in color. The adult body varies from 1/3- to 1/2inch in length, with the arrangement of the legs producing a larger overall size of 1 inch diameter or greater. The body is yellow to dark brown, has a violin-shaped marking on the thorax (mid-section) and is sometimes called a 'fiddleback' spider due to the unique markings.

While most spiders have 8 eyes, the brown recluse has 6 (3 pairs). The brown recluse spider received its name because of its color and reclusive behavior. Recluse spiders are often colored tan, but can be dark brown to almost white in appearance. These spiders make an irregular and sticky web that is used for shelter rather than for trapping insects. 

Where does it live?
There are seven species of brown recluse spider that are a health concern in the United States. The spider has been widely reported in the southern, western, and mid western United States, and is a particularly serious pest in Oklahoma, Missouri, and surrounding states.

It is usually found indoors, particularly in bathrooms, bedrooms, closets, garages, basements, and cellars. In homes with forced hot-air heating and air conditioning and often above-ceiling ductwork, brown recluse spiders are commonly found harboring in or around the ductwork or registers. They may also be present in attic areas or other locations above the ceiling. They are also commonly found in cluttered closets or basements, and in outbuildings where miscellaneous items are stored. The web is not elaborate and is best described as an off white to gray, nondescript type of webbing. The spider is not aggressive and usually retreats to cover when disturbed.

What makes it bite? 
Most bites occur when a person crushes the spider while putting on old clothes that have been hanging in a garage, or by rolling on the spider while asleep in bed. Though active throughout the year, they often go unnoticed because of their reclusive habits. Adults may be found in dark, secluded indoor places that are dry, cluttered, undisturbed and contain a supply of insects for food. They are most commonly found behind baseboards, under tables and chairs, in the basement, crawlspace, attic, infesting cedar shake roofs, and in garages and sheds. Another common hiding place for a brown recluse is in garments that are left hanging undisturbed for some time and in the linens of beds that have been unoccupied for a long while. Bites often occur when the spider is trapped in shoes or clothing, rolled on while in bed, and encountered when cleaning storage areas.

How dangerous is it?
The brown recluses venom is a cytotoxin that attacks the cells of flesh and produces necrosis or dead tissue in humans. Though fatalities from the venom are very rare, the reaction to the venom depends on the amount of and individual sensitivity to the toxin. The initial pain associated with the bite is not intense, and is generally less troublesome than a bee sting. The reaction may not occur until an hour or more after the bite. The bitten area will first develop a small, white blister and enlarge to the size of a silver dollar as the venom attacks and kills the tissue in the affected area. Eventually, the affected tissue will die and leave a sunken, ulcerated sore. The healing process is slow, generally six to eight weeks. If bitten, call a physician or go to the emergency room immediately. If possible, exterminate the spider and take it along for identification purposes. Though no antitoxin is available, prompt medical treatment can prevent severe reaction and minimize the extent of damaged tissue and eventual scarring.

What can we do to protect ourselves?
To avoid getting bitten by the brown recluse, shake out unworn or stored shoes and clothes before wearing, check bed linens of unoccupied beds and wear leather gloves when working around potential habitats. Clear away rubbish around the house for this is where it likes to lurk mostly. Use caution around spider webs in basements and crawlspaces. If a brown recluse is encountered, contact a pest control professional. And if (god forbid!) you get bitten, go to a doctor immediately, and try and catch the spider and take it with you for identification of the venom.


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