Beware the Loxosceles reclusa -- it's hiding in the dark , just waiting for you

Friday, July 25, 2008
A large brown recluse spider, probably a female about to lay eggs, found in a storage box of clothing in early spring. Note the violin on its thorax. Kathryn Lucariello / Carroll County News

CARROLL COUNTY -- It's that time of year again, when brown recluse spiders are on the move to find mates and places to lay eggs.

The upside of the brown recluse is that it is not an aggressive spider; that is, it doesn't try to find you and bite you.

The downside is that bites usually occur when the spider is just passing through -- on you or in bed or in clothing, and bites when it starts to get crushed against your skin.

Bites can be no worse than a mosquito bite or as serious as loss of a limb or even life.

The brown recluse spider, Loxosceles reclusa, is often referred to as the "fiddleback" or "violin" spider because of the violin shape on its back. It is more pronounced in some individuals than in others, so it is not always a reliable marker. The spider's color ranges from light tan to dark brown, and the abdomen can be a different color than the thorax.

Spiderlings look like adult spiders, except they are usually lighter in color, and shed their skin as they grow. The bodies of adult spiders average about 3/8 inch, but can be larger. Leg length varies but a spider with legs extended can have a diameter from a quarter to a half dollar.

The spider is called the "recluse" because it prefers to hide in dark, undisturbed places outdoors such as in sheds or behind bark or under rocks. Indoors it can be found in closets, behind baseboards or under piles of papers or clothes. It seems to be attracted to corrugated cardboard boxes.

Spiders spin sticky, uneven webs to rest in during the day.

Brown recluse spiders are found mostly in the central Southern states but can range as far north as Ohio. Arkansas is at the center of brown recluse distribution.

Both males and females are venomous. Spider bites occur most often in the spring and summer. During May through July, spiders move at night searching for food and mates, and females search for places to lay eggs. A female produces about 40 eggs in a single laying and can produce about 300 eggs in her one- to two-year lifespan.

Bites can sometimes be felt as a sharp sting that is immediately painful, or are not felt at all. Often a person doesn't know they have been bit until hours later. The bite can develop a white center surrounded by a red swollen area that is hard to the touch.

Symptoms can include moderate to severe itching, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting or shock. Some persons with a severe systemic reaction can also develop rash in other areas of the body.

The bite area can continue to swell as the venom moves through the tissues, while the center of the bite may begin to sink and turn black from necrosis. Untreated bites can develop large necrotic lesions called "volcano lesions" which turn gangrenous. An open wound can become a hole in the flesh as the dead tissue sloughs away and exposes tissue beneath.

Lesions can take six to eight weeks to heal and victims may need a skin graft. Full recovery could take months, and there may be a scar.

Unfortunately, diagnosis of brown recluse bite is uncertain unless the victim can produce the spider. According to the Ohio State University Web site, many other conditions that produce lesions can mimic a brown recluse bite, and proper treatment can be delayed by assuming a spider bite. Some of those conditions are Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tick or other arthropod bites, impetigo, diabetic lesion and staph infections.

Typical treatment for suspected brown recluse bite is injection of steroids and antibiotics, followed by oral antibiotics. In severe cases, victims may need to be hospitalized and put on intravenous fluids.

At St. John's Hospital-Berryville, Emergency Room Nurse Manager Rachel Buttgen said they have had several people come in with suspected brown recluse bites, "but we don't ever know it's a recluse."

"You could have a reaction to a tick or some other kind of spider," she said. "We usually see people in the early stages of the bite, so we don't know for sure."

She said St. John's has seen a lot of bites this year since before the summer.

"We are seeing more bites this year than last year," she said. But they have only had two serious bites, she added. She said they had not seen anyone come with a systemic rash this year, however.

At St. John's Clinic in Holiday Island, Dr. Rose's nurse, Abby, said a lot more people have come in with bites this year, but they also don't know that they are brown recluse bites. She said a lot of people have come in with tick bites.

"We've tested a lot for Lyme disease," she said. "We're seeing people coming in with fevers."

She said there was one severe case of a patient with necrosis in a bite on a thigh. The bite area was "as large as a lawnmower wheel," she said.

The patient had waited over a weekend to come in, she said.

Severe reactions can often be prevented or stopped if people get to the doctor right away.

"We try to tell people, if you have a bite and you're worried about it, come in," she said. "You've got to keep in contact. You don't want necrosis."

Symptoms of a reaction will usually show up anywhere from two to eight hours after a bite.

Last summer in July, a Eureka Springs man, Eric Clanney, said he had been bitten by a brown recluse spider while sleeping. The spider was the size of a half dollar. He was bitten on his left side, above his kidney.

Clanney said he had been bitten only once before, two to three years prior and had only a small black spot which went away after he applied a cream to it.

This bite was much more severe.

"I had a fever of 102 and my blood separated," he said. "They hospitalized me and gave me three bags of fluid."

He developed a rash in his armpits and groin areas and said his whole body turned red. The rash in those specific areas ended up in peeling skin.

"They gave me Benadryl, steroids and antibiotics," Clanney said. He was out of work for a week.

He said the shots didn't help with the rash.

"Even after they put me on painkillers, it didn't help with the itching. I couldn't sleep at all."

Clanney said he had been in Eureka Springs all his life and had heard of a couple guys getting bit, "but nothing like this."

The chances of getting bit by a brown recluse can be greatly reduced with diligent housekeeping. Don't allow clutter to collect. Vacuum crevices, closets and under furniture. Seal up any cracks or openings in screens ceilings and use door sweeps on entryways.

Shake out shoes and clothing before putting them on. Some people turn clothing hung in a closet inside out and shake it, turn it right side out and shake it again before putting it on.

Use glue traps around the house, placed in corners and along baseboards, to trap spiders and their prey.

Remove bed skirts and items from under the bed to keep spiders from climbing up onto the bed.

Wear gloves when handling firewood, lumber and rocks.

Pesticides can be successful in some cases and not in others, with the most success being in reducing brown recluses' food supply, such as cockroaches.

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  • Trying to control the Brown Recluse has always been a challenge in a home with Pets and Kids.

    Pesticides on the floor just never seem like a good idea so we have always gone with a glue spider traps.

    These are sticky traps with food scented bait but NO poisons, so it's safe around the kids.

    We typically get the Catchmaster Spider Traps from because they frequently run a special on 60 spider traps.

    In any case, our family prefers the traps to poisons / pesticides and have caught several brown recluses already this year.

    -- Posted by SpiderTrapMan on Wed, Aug 6, 2008, at 4:45 PM
  • Hi,

    Recently it was found that a family in Kansas had been living with thousands of Brown Recluse Spiders for years without a single bite.


    These are docile creatures that will only bite when pressed against skin.

    As their bites can be rather dangerous one shouldn't play around with these animals.


    -- Posted by andersnielsen on Thu, Mar 17, 2011, at 8:27 PM
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