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The Big Little Bite – Brown Recluse Spiders, Your Home, and You
Crickets, snails and other scary critters… they don’t scare me. Snakes? No, they don’t scare me either unless they’re making clicking noises or standing to attention to an accompaniment of music from a snake charmer’s flute. I also don’t suffer from arachnophobia (a general fear of spiders). Perhaps this general lack of concern for critters and the like is a product of being raised in central Florida where bugs are seemingly everywhere. There is, however, one particular fear that I have…whether it is well founded or not, good or bad…and that is the perfectly reasonable (in my opinion) fear of unknowingly entering into too close contact with Loxocele reclusa…a brown recluse spider. If the truth were to be conveyed accurately…the very thought gives me the heebie-jeebies. The brown recluse is one of the few spiders harmful to humans. Another spider that is harmful to humans is the black widow spider that most of us are at least vaguely familiar with…but for some reason they just don’t bother me too much, although I’m still ” on the lookout” for them too.
Having done thousands and thousands of home inspections in Raleigh, I have had the opportunity to go to some great homes. I also had the opportunity, if you will… to enter houses that were, well, not so great. Even in homes that seem perfectly safe and in pristine condition, there are potential dangers that can lurk.
Here in the eastern United States, a large percentage of homes are built on crawl space foundations. Crawl spaces have a deserved reputation as less than desirable places to “hang out”. I don’t know anyone who finishes dinner, for example, and says to their significant other “Honey, let’s go down to the crawl space for a little while and….” You get the picture; it’s just not the average person’s favorite part of the house. But it is an important place in which I must willingly and valiantly venture in the exercise of my professional duties as a building inspector. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the idea of being bitten by anything, really, but especially not a brown recluse spider. These spiders can be found in places other than crawl spaces. But it’s usually there… in the dark and separated from the outside world, that I sometimes think of them (and other potential local dangers) and I’m usually on a heightened state of alert for any creature that might watch me while I make my observations…it’s the things we don’t see or hear that often scare us the most, aren’t they?
So why should you worry about brown recluse spiders? Because… they can live with you in and around your home. The potential for you to get in touch with one is real. Better to be educated and informed than… bitten! Agreed? Good!
- How to visually identify a brown recluse spider? A tall brown recluse is something a little bigger than a penny. Typically, they are light to medium brown although they vary in color from cream to dark brown or blackish gray. Their most easily identifiable feature is the presence of a violin-shaped mark on their back with the violin neck pointing towards the back of their body. It was this marking that led to the recluse being given nicknames such as “the violin-backed spider” and “the violin spider”. It should be noted that other spiders have similar markings, so such marking is not absolutely reliable with regard to identification. Another distinguishing feature of the brown recluse is that it has three pairs of two eyes, at the front of its head, for a total of six eyes; most spiders have eight eyes.
- Are they native to my part of the country? Brown recluse spiders are native to Midwestern states such as Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio and south to the Gulf of Mexico. They are also found in Texas and east from there to Georgia and north to Kentucky. They are known to exist elsewhere as well, possibly as a result of traveling with humans on their journeys. [Authors note: I know they live in North Carolina because I’ve seen em’…the little buggers!]. For more information on the brown recluse in North Carolina, visit the North Carolina Nature Center website.
- Will they try to attack me or chase me? No, they don’t. They do not seek human contact and only bite if disturbed, feel threatened, and in contact with your skin. They can “jump” slightly if hit, but this move is based on avoidance rather than aggression.
- Why are they potentially dangerous? Because they’re poisonous… poisonous. A bite from a recluse will be very uncomfortable at best…and deadly at worst (though very, very rare). The majority of bites are not exceptionally serious but, as with many hazards, the very young, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk for more serious complications.
- Where could you find a brown recluse spider around my house? Recluse spiders like to reside in many of the same places you like to hang around your home. They can be found in closets, garages, carports, basements, woodpiles (well, maybe you’re not lurking around in your woodpile)…pretty much. any place where it is reasonably dry and generally undisturbed. They are also potentially found in shoes, gloves, behind skirting boards, behind pictures, in the bedding of little used beds, in stacked or folded clothes, in stacked clothes or on the floor. Many reported bites have occurred immediately after putting on clothes that were lying on the ground or otherwise disturbing the spiders that make their homes in these isolated areas.
- How do you know if you’ve been bitten by a Recluse? A bite may be easily apparent, but this is not always the case. Some bites may go unnoticed for up to 24 hours. Often the bitten area begins to itch and be painful within 2 to 8 hours and these effects worsen and become more pronounced over the next 12 to 36 hours. In extreme cases, the bite site may swell up to 10 inches or more and areas may ulcerate and where skin tissue is actually destroyed (a condition medically described as necrosis for which there is no no established treatment) and this can result in scarring of the skin. In very rare cases, the poisonous bite can cause a systemic reaction (which affects the whole body) where side effects can include nausea, vomiting, muscle and joint pain, fever and rash.
- So what should you do if you know or suspect you’ve been bitten by a Recluse? You should provide or seek appropriate medical care as soon as you experience local or systemic symptoms. As a precaution and common sense, as with the care of any injury or skin lesion, the area should be cleaned and kept clean and dry whenever possible; every effort should be made to avoid infection. Something that can be done initially is to apply an ice pack to control swelling. Aloe-Vera can be applied to soothe the area and control pain. And, of course, you should consult a professional doctor. A tetanus vaccine may be prescribed. The offending spider could be carefully caught and kept in a jar or other container to provide evidence to medical personnel, but, again, bites often go undetected, which may not be possible.
Since there are potentially serious medical consequences of being bitten by a brown recluse spider, and since it is desirable to avoid such a bite, then the best defense is a good offense (to use an unrelated sporting metaphor ). The effective offense comes from being educated about the possibilities of a spider bite and being informed of the potential consequences and appropriate courses of action. It is important to know how to minimize the risk of encountering a brown recluse, such as checking your shoes, gloves and other clothing before putting them on and knowing where they like to hide so you can be more observant and aware of them. potential. presence. And… it’s important to know what to do if you think you’ve been bitten.
As for me…as I crawl under a house, I just hope a snake has already eaten them…or something!
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