Corners, basements favorite spots for brown recluse spider

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Diane Wood laughs when she thinks about brown recluses or black widow spiders jumping at people and biting them.

"It only takes one person to get bitten and then everybody becomes afraid," said Wood, an assistant biology professor at Southeast Missouri State University.

"There's something phobic about small crawly things," Wood said.

Those two spiders are the only poisonous ones in Southeast Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation's Web site. The brown recluse has adapted to household climates. People often find them while spring cleaning or emptying the basement.

Brown recluse spiders make small webs in the corners or basements of houses, according to Dr. Ed Masters of Sikeston, Mo., who has been published five times in medical journals for his research on brown recluse spider bite treatment and diagnosis. Most recently he was in the May issue of the Southern Medical Association Journal for his observations on pain control.

Brown recluses, also known as the violin recluse, can stay in houses for long periods of time because they can live off little amounts of food — insects or other spiders. Many times, recluses find their warmth in cracks near where the floor boards meet a wall or in or around a bed.

The brown recluse can be found from mid-Iowa to eastern Georgia, down south into New Orleans and west over almost all of Kansas, according to Rick Vetter, who published a paper 1999 with the Dermatology Online Journal titled "Identifying and Misidentifying the Brown Recluse Spider."

The severity of the bite depends also on how much venom is injected, which Masters said is usually fairly low, but in some cases — and if left untreated — the bite will progress and there'll be a zone of redness surrounding a white space where the tissue starts to die and get purple or bluish.

"It's like you paint a target red, then white, then blue," he said. "What will commonly happen is the skin will become necrotic and actually ulcer. I've actually seen these things big enough you can half bury a tennis ball in."

Depending on the location, brown recluse bites can be extremely painful, Masters said. "A bite near a lot of nerves and soft tissues is going to do major damage to the anatomy, and that's going to be worse," he said. Masters found that using a lidocaine patch in severe pain situation can eliminate the need for narcotics.

Black widow bites can result in "abdominal cramps, muscle tightness or soreness, headache, nausea and sweating," according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

'Extremely unlikely'

As bad as some of the bites can get, they are extremely rare. The conservation's Web site said death is considered "extremely unlikely" from a brown recluse and "unusual" from a black widow.

According to the Missouri Regional Poison Control Center in St. Louis, 140 brown recluse bites and 19 black widow bites were reported in Missouri in 2007. For the same year, Cape Girardeau reported three brown recluse bites and one black widow bite.

Many people confuse the recluse with the wolf spider, which isn't poisonous. The difference between the two is the violin marking on the front part of the brown recluse, around the front legs. In order to see the difference, one would need to get within a foot of the spider. This is where Wood gets her laugh.

"I'm just thinking about a brown recluse leaping on a person because they get too close to it," Wood said.

But a spider won't harm someone unless it feels threatened, mainly through physical contact. Brown recluses and black widows don't jump, either.

Wood said sweeping and vacuuming in the corners of a house and making sure papers and blankets don't get piled up will usually suffice to keep spiders away.

The chemical sprayed by most pest control companies will kill spiders and insects but not immediately.

"Brown recluse spiders and with all your spiders, there's no chemical out there that's a miracle chemical that you spray it and they're all gone," said Gene Schuessler, owner of Advanced Pest Control Systems.

"They walk on the tip of their eight legs," he said. "The only time they pick up the chemical is when they squat and rest. That's the reason it takes time to kill them."

Schuessler said another way to get rid of them is placing glue traps along baseboards.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: