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Myth of the Brown Recluse (ucr.edu)
183 points by josephpmay on Oct 24, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 153 comments

Working in a midwest auto repair shop, we get our share of spiders and such. Brown recluse spiders are just that, reclusive. Ive seen them take up residence in old tire piles mostly. Ive rarely seen a recluse, but our shop bathroom has a small window where a particularly large hobo spider has set up shop. We named him Biggie because, well, its a huge spider that just sits on a web all day munching bugs and judging your poor dietary standard. We used to assign cancelled tickets to biggie. at some point, biggie had a small workstation and even an entry in our timekeeping software (for testing.)

So at some point he was just gone. We assumed he moved onto some nicer shop with tastier bugs, but as it turns out, biggie met his demise at the hands of our new tenant Goober, a chubby possum who made it through the window on a cold night and managed to scare the piss out of one of our front office sales folk.

This was completely unacceptable, shouting at a colleague at work is tantamount to casual harassment. So, we did what any coworkers did. We took Goober out to eat by luring him back outside with grapes and raisins. After he was out for the day, we built him a little workstation, fashioned some personal protection equipment, and even made goobers toolbox. It holds all our weird porsche/BMW bolts and nuts that, as far as we can tell, are in hard enough spots on the vehicles that only a German possum could install.

This made my morning. Thank you.

Mine too. Thank you.

Thank you for being an agent of harmony.

I've lived in Portland OR, Mid MO, and the Kansas City area. In mid-Missouri, the brown recluse is the standard house spider. Pretty much every spider in my house there was a brown recluse. I had a weird bruise-y/necrotic bite on my hip that I assumed came from one that got in bed with me. It healed up fine without any medical intervention even though it lingered for awhile. I suspect a lot of people get bitten over the span of their lives but the bites aren't really noticeable. Spiders get in your bed or get into your clothes sometimes. It takes a bit of work/luck to get a recluse bite. They're not aggressive and they're not looking for trouble.

The West Coast, in my experience, has very little on the Midwest when it comes to spiders and bugs. In Oregon I was blown away by the lack of bugs. I could leave my doors and windows open at night and nothing seemed to come in. Unreal! The only major thing Portland seemed to have on the middle states is slugs. Waking up in the morning to find slug trails in my kitchen and in the dog bowl was a weird experience. Live and learn!

I live in the Santa Barbara area, and bugs are way less, probably because of how dry it is compared to the midwest. In mid MO I've seen ticks large enough to keep as pets!

However, we do have a lot of black widows. They aren't super aggressive towards humans, but they tend to go in places that you only sometimes visit (the back of that one drawer in your toolchest you don't use very often, woodpiles, Christmas decorations in attic or garage, etc.) I put on gloves before going to any of those locations because I'm told even though it's non-fatal to healthy adults, it's supposed to be excruciatingly painful.

Don't forget to check if they're in your gloves too!

Yep, I put my hand into a glove once only to find a spider there. Despite my general affection for spiders, that was not a happy moment.

This is my paranoia, and why I always squeeze old work-gloves flat from the outside before putting them on.

Our exterminator told us they're terribly common and difficult to 'solve,' especially in a house with a wood shake roof.

He suggests ignoring them, unless you find they've wiped out all the other spiders in your house. The brown recluse is, apparently, the apex spider in mid-Missouri.

Even then, sticky traps are the best recourse; because they're reclusive loners, they don't spread poison to others.

Interestingly, I had a similar bite in Portland growing up. I assume the hobo spider got me in bed, but I definitely needed medical intervention, and a little over 20 years later I’ve got a nice silver dollar size scar on my butt cheek.

That’s also how I came to learn that even though I had grown up assuming Oregon had brown recluses, what we really have is hobo spiders with a similarly necrotic bite. Eastern Oregon has some, but it would be a real shock to find one in the Willamette Valley.

If you want bugs just venture over to central or eastern oregon. Flies, mosquitoes, spiders of all types, and other bugs galore!

What happens is occasionally you get news about some poor soul with multiple amputations because of necrotic tissue, and people assume "must've been a brown recluse" because it's a suitable scapegoat.

And of course, the fear of the brown recluse is that they don't really look like anything. We all think we can recognize a black widow, but a brown recluse just looks like a typical house spider.

That said, I'm suspicious a bit about comments how spiders never bite you. Last year suddenly the yellow sac spiders in the neighborhood got aggressive - I have no idea why, they're normally harmless house spiders all over my area, but I and a friend of mine both got bit by them completely out of the blue without warning. Spider just walked on and chomped. He told me he'd heard from others similar stories recently... I assumed it was some kind of distemper infection or something seasonal since normally they're harmless.

It stung like hell and left my arm sore for a week.

Yep, tons of spider in Missouri... I used to be somewhat freaked out about brown recluse spiders as a child but now as an adult I could care less. There is one with a web setup in my basement that I walk by every day, I just let it be since there is a pile of dead bugs under the web.

I remember one kid in high school got bit and had a nasty necrotized spot on his ankle, other than that I have only heard of a few people who have been bit.

As far as black widows go, I have only seen/caught a couple of them and never heard of anyone being bit by one.

I've had 2 bites from the brown recluses.

The first was on my upper lip, sent me to the hospital, before the necrosis it swelled up closing off my mouth and nose so I couldn't breath. The "core" was extracted and I was left with minimal scarring, but I keep a mustache to cover it.

The second bite was on my big toe. Woke up one morning with my toe swollen to the size of a small orange. When I went to the hospital for that one, some rotting had already started. My 350 pound father and two nurses held my leg down as the doctor cut into it. They were no match, I knocked them all to the ground when I felt the blade. I now have a dime-sized spot on my big toe.

I still don't fear them, and recognize the good they do. I try to avoid spiders now though ;).

How do you know that it was a brown recluse? I'm not disputing, I'm just wondering if it was assumed based on the injury or if you were able to find the actual spider.

Just going off what the doctors told me.

A friend later told me that MRSA sometimes mimics the same symptoms, but both occurred during summer, and not around other kids or in a hospital setting.

Unfortunately doctors tend to over diagnose a lot of things as brown recluse bites[1]. So, unless he specifically tested for it, there's a really good chance it wasn't a brown recluse bite.


Funny. 10 years ago, I lived at the northern edge of the brown recluse zone. I saw many spiders in my apartment building that looked like them - can't say for sure. Then one day I developed sudden swelling on my thigh. It went from nothing to fairly swollen in about 2 hours.

I went to the doctor and he said "Could be a spider bite, or could be a staph infection. No way to know - just take these antibiotics and pray."

Then earlier this year it happened again - at a similar spot. Doctor said the same thing. No brown recluses in this area, but he said it could be a different spider.

As far as black widows go, I have only seen/caught a couple of them and never heard of anyone being bit by one.

You need to get a bit east, say, North Carolina. You'll want to look carefully when pulling up those old pieces of wood out by the shed. Wear gloves.

I think Black Widows are more common in the American South West than anywhere else. I'm in Tennessee and brown recluse spiders are very common, but I've only ever seen one black widow, ever. Black Widows are less aggressive afiak and are usually outdoors. Brown recluse love cardboard boxes and storage areas, indoors...so their bite is more common.

NC native here -- I've found black widows in nearly every apartment and house I've lived in, which is saying something. Only one of those locations was outside a city.

Grew up in Greensboro, NC. Tons of black widows in most sheds/barns, etc.

I always thought there were brown recluses around too - but I guess this research is saying they aren't in NC?

I've never seen one. I've seen dozens of spiders that people said were brown recluses, and they never were.

I'm in Tennessee and brown recluse spiders are very common, but I've only ever seen one black widow, ever.

Could be just NC, too, dunno. It's the only place I've seen black widows, and though not common, I saw more than a few. OTOH, I was surprised to find out NC has scorpions, too, so who knows what goes on up in those mountains. :-)

I live in Texas. There are brown recluse here. I don't really fear a spider since it doesn't seem like they are all that aggressive to people. The worst part of spiders to me are when I walk through a web. Ive had a bad spider bite that caused great swelling and some necrosis, but I don't know it was a brown recluse. I personally have a nasty fear of wasps, which I cannot rationally explain other than I think they look mean and evil and can fly at you. Here in Houston, we have 2 types that are especially aggressive. The worst is the yellow jacket, since they are great at building a hive in the ground and their small size means you don't see them until its too late in many cases. The other is the Mahogany/Red paper wasp. These guys are usually ok most of the year, but as summer turns to fall, they get a bit aggressive and start wanting your food. They are also relatively large and make pretty big nests.

Even through they are great mosquito killers, I won't let a nest live near a place I frequent. We also have cicada killer wasps, which are very large and very inquisitive. That combination usually has me spazing out at least once a year as they dive bomb me...

IMO, you haven't lived in Texas until you have gone into your office (or other room in your house) and found a large black tarantula in the corner of the window. Try sucking that up into even a powerful brand-new Dyson vacuum cleaner and watch the legs move around like crazy because all you did was piss it off.

But frankly, the scorpions bother me a lot more. Especially when they like to hide in your laundry, and drop down onto the floor at night from your attic. You can hear them when they hit the floor.

These days, I sit back one row from a guy we call "Spider Man", because his screen saver is nothing but giant pictures of spiders, 24x7. That will give you arachnophobia faster than anything I know of.

Growing up in Oklahoma, I met plenty of Black Widow and Brown Recluse spiders. My biology teacher collected them. He was extremely annoyed with me one day when I was cleaning some stuff up in the back of the room and the biggest brown recluse I've ever seen decided to take a quick trip up my arm. I managed to catch the thing and put it in a glass container filled with a clear liquid, and he looked at me like I was an idiot and told me "You know that water won't kill those things, right?" To which I replied "Yes, that's why the container is filled with alcohol." He really wanted that thing for his collection, and was quite miffed that I had actually managed to kill the sucker, before he could get his hands on it.

The bite from a brown recluse or a black widow may be worse than a black tarantula that is bigger than your hand, but in my experience, the effect on your bowels is much larger with the tarantula.

HA. When I was in college, tarantulas were plentiful. I had a few as "pets" for a day or two in an empty pitcher in my dorm room. I certainly wouldn't want to do a fear factor style let tarantulas crawl over me, but they just don't really scare me. I can move faster than they can...

Im actually reminded of how the other day I walked outside and one of those giant cockroaches flew down and landed on my shorts. I had my phone in one hand and a drink in the other. I started tap-dancing that thing off my leg and then it flailed around while I was trying to step on it. After the commotion ended, I realized my Ring Doorbell captured the entire moment. That is probably the most viewed tweet Ive ever posted...

When I was a kid, my grandparents had a home at Lake Arrowhead in Texas. On the way to or from town, we came upon a tarantula migration with around a hundred thousand tarantulas crossing the road.. so many you couldn't see any land without them. My grandmother (smh) opened the car door to gawk at them, which is dumb because they can rub those fiberglass-like hairs off their bodies as a defense mechanism.

Where I'm at in Chico, CA has hundred or thousands of black widows... you definitely don't put gloves on without shaking or rolling them up.

As a Texan as well, I've been lucky to have never have been bitten by a tarantula. I've never heard what you are saying about bowels before regarding being bitten. What I have heard is that the bite itself hurts a lot more vs a black widow or brown recluse but the venom is pretty weak comparatively.

In this case, bowel evacuation has less to do with being bitten by a tarantula and much more to do with literally having the shit scared out of you on seeing this thing inside your house.

Yup, it's a real thing.

Oh, and wasp-wise, the scariest thing I've seen are the Tarantula Hawk wasps.

Those things are ginormous.

And they hunt tarantulas.

'Nuff said.

> I personally have a nasty fear of wasps, which I cannot rationally explain other than I think they look mean and evil and can fly at you.

It's a hindbrain thing, I have it too. The rational side of my brain doesn't need the onlookers to explain to me the technique of staying calm and not flailing about; the hindbrain is incapable of listening and wants me to just fuckin' run as fast as is humanly possible.

It can be embarrassing at times...

Same here: I fear wasps more than spiders. Some spiders look sort of cute, and even the ugly ones don't seem aggressive, but all types of wasps look aggressive to me, all the time.

It doesn't help that I've been stung by wasps more than once, but never by spiders.

Yeah, wasps are much worse for me than spiders.

But scorpions are even worse than wasps. They don't have the sound of their wings beating or the actual capability of flight, but they are much more alien looking -- and acting.

Scorpions do look menacing, but are they aggressive?

The thing with wasps for me was that both times I was stung, I sort of walked near a nest but wasn't really doing anything to disturb them. Or one time I was having dessert at a restaurant and a bunch of yellowjackets flew through the open window and ganged up on me and wanted my dessert and my coke (in this case they weren't aggressive but attracted to the sweet smells/tastes, I know, but still scary). However, every time I've seen scorpions, they were doing their thing, away from me, and I got the idea that unless I actually stepped on them, they'd leave me alone.

As a native-born Californian, I’m glad to hear it.

As a long-term, transplanted resident of Virginia, however, I’m keenly aware of the statistically small, but non-zero chance of running afoul with a (suspected) brown recluse. In 2014 I spent six days in the hospital after being being bitten on the ankle.

Extensive courses of I.V. antibiotics were used to combat the necrotizing aspects of the venom. Along with a number of different topical anti-bactrials.

Unfortunately, because I did not capture the spider which bit me, it was impossible to definitively point to Loxosceles as the culprit, thus complicating treatment.

Recluse spider bites can be (relatively) painless, initially, and it could have happened while I was out hiking in the woods and stopped for a rest, or earlier, while at my home.

Not that I don't believe you (the word 'necrotizing' sends shivers up my spine) but since you didn't catch the spider itself, are there any other species of spider that may have been the biter?

I live in the Bay Area in a warmer microclimate. We've got widows, sizable orb weavers, and supposedly tarantulas (although I've never seen one and have my doubts). I've twice been bitten by something while either under my house or in my basically wild yard and gotten nasty infection. One bite was on my elbow and become necrotic. It was treated only with antibiotics. It now looks like I took a bullet. The other was on my neck and required surgery. Although I had some mild symptoms suggestiong a black widow bite, they were also symptoms of infection, so the doctor concluded it was not a widow that bit me. Anything that can pierce the skin can give you a nasty infection.

> Although I have my doubts

I take it your never been to Mt Diablo during mating season then? The place is filthy with tarantulas. Just a random YouTube but at certain times of the year, the road is covered in them: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=g4w5UbvaYy0

Cool vid. Nope, never been there, but I want to go now. I'm in the hills of the peninsula. I've done a ton of hiking near my house but I've never found one.

Yeah, as far as I've found they stay in the East Bay. I've seen one in the Oakland Hills, but my friends that are big bikers have relayed disgusting (to me) stories about all of the tarantulas they encounter near Mt. Diablo and out that way.

I've seen one at both rancho san antonio & the dish.

The tarantulas are out in the hills around the bay for the most part, especially the East Bay hills and down around the Santa Cruz mountains.

My experience with BW bites was my dad getting bit a couple times growing up out in the Central Valley. He had bad flu like symptoms for a few days from the bites. FWIW

Anything is possible, but here's the rationale the doctors who were treating me used to reach their conclusion:

In Virginia there are only two known populations of venomous spiders, the black widow and the brown recluse. A black widow bite was ruled out because I did not exhibit any of the "typical" symptoms that they'd had experience with. I didn't have any pain outside of the bit marks (until later when my lymphatic system started to show signs of blood poisoning and an ache set in). From what I understand black widow bites start off as a "bee sting" type pain and then progress to abdominal pain and full-body muscle spasms.

But as you alluded to, without a specimen, it was an educated guess on their part based on my memory of where I'd been during the week prior to the bite.

My guess would be a black widow.

In Virginia? I never saw one in 17 years. Now that was all in Piedmont and Tidewater; perhaps the valley has them, but I doubt it.

saw one while working at a swimming pool in nova a few years back

There’s this concept that any time you see a new story where the topic is your area of expertise, it’s baffling how completely inaccurate the story is.

And then we all keep reading stories about areas in which we aren’t experts, and it doesn’t occur to us that are likely equally misleading.

Because if we all factored that in, we wouldn’t believe any news.

And I guess we feel better thinking we know what’s going on, rather than acknowledging we are in the dark.

This is called the Gell-Mann amnesia effect: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gell-Mann_amnesia_effect

I really wish I could tell some system who I designate as authorities for given subjects.

And then I could see the news annotated by the authorities I chose. Or by the people they acknowledge have authority over those subjects.

Linus Torvalds is an expert on Linux.

John Carmack is an expert on computer graphics.

Tiger Woods is an expert on Golf.

Al Gore is an expert on Climate Change.

I don't care what Tiger Woods thinks about computer graphics. I don't care what Linus Torvalds thinks about Golf. I don't care what John Carmack thinks about Climate Change.

But if those people that I've identified acknowledge that other people or groups get it "mostly right," and those people have annotated some news article, I desperately want to see their commentary!

And I'd also be curious to learn who I think anti-experts are. When the people I think are authorities endorse an article on that subject, I want to see who condemns that article. And I want to read their commentary for myself. If I think they're loopy, I can flag them as anti-authorities.

And yes, when there's dispute among the people I consider authorities on a given topic, I'll be especially interested to read the debate.

I want to say that I probably trust people who work at the Washington Post to cover world news. I probably trust people at MIT, Cornell, Stanford to cover science. Eventually I'll discover which economic school most agrees with my take.

Yes, this may re-enforce the bubble that I'm in. But like I said, I really do want to read the BEST arguments from people who disagree with my school of experts, too. Flame wars are a giant waste of time. I want to flag a comment, "I disagree, but this is the most persuasive point someone has made." Highlight THOSE comments. Even better are the comments where I can say, "You really turned me around on this one."

I want to flag a comment from either side as, "Hey, can people from both sides please comment on this? This seems like it's interesting."

I want to have Line Item Veto. To comment on specific parts of an article, highlighting them, to say they are for sure true, or they're for sure false, etc.

Let the media have the chance to revise and correct their article. Hell, even fixing spelling and grammar mistakes is valuable.

Note that I desperately want this same kind of annotation for research papers on arXiv, etc.

I think I'd want it to work something like Google SideWiki, or maybe Disqus?

Won't someone please implement this?

The democracy of upvotes and downvotes on Reddit and Hacker News is a signal, but it can be gamed by bots, and NOT ALL OPINIONS ARE EQUAL.

I don't want the system to TELL me who experts are. Maybe it can suggest experts. But it should damn well include Alex Jones (even though I detest him), and Fox News (even though I think they're the most incorrect major news source).

If Jon Stewart or Dan Rather have something to say about an article?! You can bet your ass I want to read it!

Hell, even linking me to a video of when Stephen Colbert talked about this topic last night adds some value.

I read a blog post from a pediatrician once that I thought was excellent. He lamented roughly, "If you don't trust me to be an authority on vaccines for your child, then I don't know what kind of relationship you think we have." I agree with that. It's not that I think my pediatrician is RIGHT. It's that I grant that they have more authority on the subject than I do, and my world view is to trust scientific authority / consensus. Even though that's ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEE OF CORRECTNESS. I get that. But of the ways to try to understand the world, I prefer to view the world through the lens of scientists. And since we have divisions of labor, and I do not have enough time to become an expert myself, I want help in understanding how the experts I place trust in, how they view the world, and news, etc.

Sorry couldn't help but LOL and sorry for getting off-topic.

>Al Gore is an expert on Climate Change.

Might need to rethink that. He's a fundraiser and tv personality. Think 'evangelist'. It's not evident that he understands complex systems or probabilities better than say, Taleb. AFAIK, so far all his historic projections have been incorrect. This is the danger of 'celebrity'. Similar with Neil DeGasse.

That said, I do think it's interesting, what Taleb said about "you should go to a surgeon that doesn't look like a surgeon"...if one can be successful in a field without succumbing to stereotype-aligned but inconsequential norms, they might just know what they are saying, other wise, they'd be the first ones thrown out of the boat by colleagues.

Do be careful about reinforcing your own bubble. Much of what you said would have you doing that, vis-a-vie media-based indication of what is 'an expert'.

> It's not evident that he understands complex systems

It's not evident that he understand evangelizing either.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Al Gore. The world wold be a much better place if he had won the 2000 election. But the one image that sticks with me is the scene in "An Inconvenient Truth" where Al is being driven around in the back seat of a plush town car. A more tone-deaf image in that context is hard to imagine.

I also found that humorous/obnoxious. He is literally a limousine liberal. (I say this as someone with a liberal streak myself.)

Russell Brand, of all people, caught my attention one time. He said when he criticized the flaws of capitalism when he was poor, people called him jealous. When he criticized the flaws of capitalism when he was wealthy, people called him a hypocrite.

They're all ad hominem attacks. But when he's criticized for being both too poor, and for being too rich, and his message didn't change, it's particularly obvious that people just don't want to hear his position, and will do anything to discredit him.

I agree with your sentiment and like your example, but in fairness to "the people" criticizing him, it's probably different people in each instance of criticism. We personify groups of people, and then treat them as fungible units of a universal (if hypocritical) collective. Individuals will criticize everything, if given enough time and resources.

I've seen people call Gore a hypocrite for flying around.

He believes in carbon offsets.

He's also not opposed to capitalism.

So, spending money on luxury goods, and spending money to buy carbon offsets, is entirely in line with what he's stated are his views.

You're welcome to your opinion on the matter, of course, but I wanted to highlight that I don't perceive riding in a plush town car is being out of line with his message of acting on Climate Change.

I'm not criticizing Al Gore for riding in a limo. I'm criticizing him for choosing to put a scene of himself riding in a limo in a movie about climate change.

I am a human with limited time and resources. If you want me to name right now one human being that I trust to guide me in the right direction on Climate Change, it's Al Gore.

Al Gore would then, as I have seen him do, put actual scientists up on a pedestal. His most important role would be to help me find the REAL, underlying authorities.

I would as likely be to say, "I would likely trust any of the authors of the IPCC."

And again, yes, I would trust Neil deGrasse Tyson to help me find authorities. I would have trusted Carl Sagan to help me find authorities. I would trust Bill Nye to help me find authorities.

If you picture the world in some kind of N-Dimensional space of authority and ignorance, I think Al Gore, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, and Bill Nye are pointed in the right direction. And I think they're aware (or were aware) that they were not themselves the sources of that authority, but merely spokespeople for it. I'd start with them. Because I don't honestly know who to REALLY listen to.

After I've started on my path, I'd hope to find out the differences within the schools of thought on any given subject. And I'd hope I'd be open to having my mind changed, on anything.

I am completely aware of the problem of the bubble. Another thing I want to do is to specifically find people who share ALMOST ALL of my views, but differ with me on some important subject. Because I think a discussion between me and them would be based on shared views, and would be very fruitful.

I'd also like people to volunteer information about themselves (aggregated and anonymized), so that I can find out, "Out of US Citizen, Christian, college-educated people earning more than $100k per year, how many of them believe in anthropogenic climate change?" And other questions like that. Yes, huge bias, because of self-reported people, etc. But still. Being able to even sample HN or Reddit on those kinds of questions would be super interesting.

And I'd desperately want to keep bots out of this, and I'd often want to filter out people who aren't KNOWN to be from the US or living in the US. Often I'd care what people in other countries think, but often I just don't.

The Taleb thing (going furter off topic) seems too reliant on an “efficient market.”

I bet bad surgeons harm patients at a higher rate than good surgeons throw bad suregons out of the boat.


Taleb isn't arguing that someone who doesn't look like a surgeon will necessarily be a good one, just that they are more likely to be good, relative to a surgeon who got there with fewer obstacles.

I want to flag a comment, "I disagree, but this is the most persuasive point someone has made."

In theory, that is my understanding of the voting system on HN. Based on the downvotes I have received over the years, it's obviously not perfect in that respect. But upvote the comments that contribute positively to the conversation, and you might rarely downvote a comment that detracts. I click the up button for plenty of comments with which I have strong disagreement. But if it's a well-thought comment that makes me have to think about a good counter if I disagree, then it's worth an up click.

I don't take it that way.

Far more often I see it as "I agree."

But what is most interesting to me is, "I disagree with your conclusion (or the assumptions you are starting from), but I think your argument is well said."

I'd often like to de-emphasize the people that I agree with. I don't need my own opinion echoed back to me so much, thanks. That's what FB, Reddit, HN seem to tend to do.

Or, they find "engaging" content. Which is normally obnoxious, offensive, and flat-out wrong in uninteresting ways. They feed on my pugnacious attitude for clicks.

I'd rather spend more time talking with people who accept the "Principle of Charity" as sacrosanct, than talking with people who will quibble about minor points.

> How hard is that Arkansas guy laughing who was sleeping on top of 6 brown recluses?

I get the point and I second the sentiment and intent of the article. But then again that Arkansas guy must be very brave nonetheless when he isn't worried about six brown recluses living next to him while sleeping - considering that the spider definitely is venomous and a bite can trigger necrosis.

We don't laugh that hard, I have been bit twice, and both left sizable scars. Although, if you know you have been bit and get treatment within in a day or two it shouldn't be that bad. --Arkansan

It is better now that we have running water and don't have to use the outhouse. That was a bad scene for brown recluse bites, in particular with respect to the typical bite location.

As a kid, we once visited a cabin and my mom sat down on the toilet and was surprised by a spider. Ever since then, I always check for spiders under the seat before I'll sit. If I had had to use an outhouse, I probably would have squated over the seat like they squat in some countries...

I was born and raised in Arkansas, and I still live in deep brown recluse territory. It's a "out of sight, out of mind" deal with the 8-legged friends. Subconsciously you know they're around -- I could find several in my garage if I wanted to, and probably some in the closets of my house -- but they're reclusive by nature, hence the name, and tend to stay out of the way. My uncle got bit on the arm by one while bringing some firewood inside one winter. A course of oral and local antibiotics from a veterinarian friend and all he had to show after a week was a small scar.

Growing up in TX my sisters and I were sufficiently scared to death of "fiddlebacks". I've never known anyone to be bitten but my wife got a nasty bite from something about a week ago. Big red swollen spot on her ankle and it immediately made me think of the Brown Recluse bite stories i was told as a kid. I asked my wife to keep an eye on it and if it looked any worse in 24 hours we're going to the doc. Fortunately, the swelling went down and things turned out fine.

I was likely bitten on the ankle by one when I was 12 after walking around in ivy. It's hard to tell exactly what it was, but it swelled up like half a baseball, the doctor removed a chunk of skin/flesh an inch across (it mostly fell off) and I couldn't walk for a couple of weeks.

I hated spiders for years after that... they don't bug me much now, but windows and recluses will spread (if fed) and can be dangeous. It's best to keep them out of your house and garage area. Seen lots of widows, but never a recluse in California.

Same here. I grew up on a farm in TX. Brown recluses and black widows were always things to look out for doing work out in the barn.

In GA, I am wary for the black widow and the brown recluse, the former when indoors and the latter outdoors. I've not spotted either in months honestly, but I never stop being wary.

As far as CA natives being super freaked out about it...meh? I don't blame you. Fiddler spiders are scary looking and after seeing some of the wounds online, it's quite the eye opener.

I have never personally met someone in either GA or AR that had been bitten by either of these spiders, so if you lean towards the uncharitable side of things, I have a somewhat irrational fear caused by reading things in HTML docs downloaded from a remote server in cyberspace.

Edit: grammar

Both the widow and the recluse are quite timid. Widow bites are generally not dangerous unless you're elderly, very young, or immunocompromised. They'll swell and be red for a while, but it's not life-threatening. Get near a widow, poke it, and it cowers in fear.

The recluse's bite isn't itself dangerous - it's the necrotic bacteria that they carry that can get into your bite, which IIRC happens in about 20-25% of bites. If they bite at all - they're more likely to run away terrified than bite, but it's definitely something to be worried about.

However, if you find them, do not kill them because they are cannibals. If other recluses smell a dead one, they'll come to eat it. A recluse infestation is a very difficult job for exterminators for this reason.

I was more worried about the (biting!) gnats in GA. And the snakes. And the mosquitoes.

How interesting! Ive known several people with brown recluse bites and I always assumed the (rather unpalatable) necrosis was from the venom, not some cofactor like bacteria.

Upon reflection, it makes total sense. The presentations they had would be identical to serious infection, ie visible red marks on the skin tracing blood vessels and following the blood flow.

Yeah it does... https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loxoscelism

Sphingomyelinase D

I thought they had a hemotoxin in their venom like a viper that contains enzymes that break down red blood cells.

There may be bacteria, but the venom is known to contain sphingomyelinase D which is an enzyme that causes cell death. That is what causes necrosis.


A solitary male spider will run and take cover, but a mother will stand their position and will not hesitate to bite to defend its eggsac or spiderlings.

I would see black widows around when I was living in Sacramento 7 or 8 years ago. One set up shop in our laundry room window, another in the car port. No real bother.

However one time I found one in the bathtub and had to get rid of it -- not only because it had decided the bathtub was a good stop to hang out but because if my cat had found it first it wouldn't have ended well.

On the flip side, increased awareness of the little buggers is probably better for bite victims.

The mother of one of my childhood friends in chilly New Hampshire went to the hospital with a rash a few years back and several visits emerged missing a chunk of her back about the size of a tennis ball. Having never seen one, the doctors never even considered she might have a dangerous spider bite.

My father in law developed a nasty necrotic wound that everyone assumed was a brown recluse bite. But it kept getting worse and worse no matter what treatment options they tried. Turned out he had leishmaniasis. Of course no one considered that because they were blinded by the common explanation.

Now, you could argue that maybe had the doctors known more about leishmaniasis he would have received a diagnosis faster. However, I imagine the situation played out about as well as one should hope. Certainly in Bolivia (where he picked up the disease) they should be more aware of the common causes of things than the uncommon. They should not be inspecting for brown recluse bites when there are rarely any just as we should not look at every necrotizing wound and investigate it as an uncommon case of leishmaniasis.

Relevant link: https://abc7chicago.com/man-uses-blowtorch-to-kill-spiders-s...

The Fresno Fire Department said a man who was house-sitting for his parents set the home on fire after he used a blowtorch to kill black widows...

"Mission accomplished"

> wood louse spiders (Dysdera crocota)

Small typo. Is Dysdera crocata, not crocota. I used to play with those things annoying it with a little stick in a mix of fear and admiration. Children love predators so It was like finding a lion under a rock. A terrific brick-red and cream animal with impressive extra big fangs. Very "pokemonesque".

I like how aggressive the tone of this was "Although people are free to disagree, this opinion has come about after more than two decades of constant research".

The Myth of the Myth of the Brown Recluse

I have lived in California for 25 years and have never heard about the Brown Recluse living here. I guess I don't watch enough local news, but I think that Rick Vetter, being in the Department of Entomology at UC Riverside, is going to have an extreme over exposure to people who think the Brown Recluse is a problem. The random people who send him spiders are worried about the Brown Recluse, but 500 in say 30 years is not very many. If 1 in 500,000 people are super worried about these spiders in California, then he might interact with most of them. The essay is of course a bit tongue-in-cheek, but this problem of the Myth of the Brown Recluse is probably only experience by a small number of people.

Anecdata: I live in Oregon, and have always been mildly concerned about visiting California because I thought brown recluses lived there.

I genuinely have no idea where I got the idea.

Further: I used to live in Oregon and was given the impression that I might encounter them there (in Oregon).

Media hysteria is a very real danger to science and logic in general. Their concern is more about driving traffic to sites or getting viewers to increase ad revenue, not necessarily telling you the truth if it isn't particularly sexy. I see parallels with the onslaught against a lot of initiatives in the crop science sector. Playing to the emotions of people rather than the facts is a very dangerous spiral for us to fall into.

I briefly lived in Chile, where the Chilean recluse is considerably more venomous than the brown recluse. I met one man who was bitten by one on a neck vein. The damage to his heart now requires life long medication. Because of that, I'm going to continue to be afraid of brown recluses, despite living several degrees north of their known range in the US.

Growing up in California, I was always fearful of black widows. I had no idea the availability of antivenom was so great.

Black widows are not aggressive. They won't bite you unless you crush them or threaten their eggs. You can even pick them up and play with them without a bite. (Not that I would recommend testing their limits).

That being said, I do wear gloves when picking up firewood or moving stuff around my property, because if I grab one accidentally, that does crush them, which is exactly when they bite.

One of my parents friends had two black widows living in this small enclosed area of their backyard. The wife was a photographer and let them live their so she could take pictures. You could get within inches of them with a camera or whatever else, and they wouldn't even move

I have a couple black widows living in my basement. They each chose to live in a small crevice in a concrete wall. I can go watch them, but if my shadow accidentally falls on them, they hide as fast as they can.

Some people thinks it’s crazy that I don’t kill them, but they certainly aren’t trying to hurt me, so I don’t see why I would.

The article doesn't mention how long you have after the bite until the antivenom must be administered, so it's feasible that people living in remote or undeveloped areas would still want to be wary. I also imagine that children are more susceptible to the venom, so it still makes sense to teach them about the danger.

Most people don’t need to be. What the article fails to mention is that Black Widow bites are only life-threatening to the ‘feeble’ (children, elderly, sick, etc). Otherwise you’re in for a very bad time, but the chance of dying is insignificant.

“In the United States each year, about 2,200 people report being bitten .. each year 12 bites are considered serious but no deaths have been reported in 100 years ..

.. Contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage, let alone death ..

.. Since the venom is not likely to be life-threatening, antivenom has been used as pain relief and not to save lives .. a study demonstrated that standardized pain medication, when combined with either antivenom or a placebo, had similar improvements in pain and resolution of symptoms.”


Both are very different creatures. Lets say broadly that Recluse has an acid attak, will melt tissue. Recluse will not kill you normally but can leave a scar.

Black widows instead have an attack of, lets say, electric type. Will 'electrocute' you. Black widow will not kill you normally. But if you collaborate with the black widow work, you will kill yourself instead

My sis-in-law had a necrotic bite from a brown recluse that nearly required surgery to stop the decay. This was in the Midwest. One of the happiest points of moving to CA is not finding them on my pillow. Creepy little creatures. I haven’t met anyone in 16y of life in CA that has heard of them.

> One of the happiest points of moving to CA is not finding them on my pillow.

Christ this thread is seriously nightmare fuel for someone who grew up in a country where literally no dangerous wildlife exists. I cannot imagine dealing with deadly animals on my pillow.

Where is the place with no dangerous wildlife?

Central Minnesota is basicaly dangerous wildlife free if you except disease-carrying ticks (and now maybe the mosquitos?) and don't consider non-predators dangerous. I imagine vast swaths of Iowa and eastern Nebraska are similar. Maybe the Dakotas too although I suspect there are a ton of coyotes there. Minnesota has two venomous snakes, black beers, grey wolves, coyotes, and the northern black widow, but none of these were part of my experience growing up. The snakes are confined to the south-eastern tip of the state. Most of the other predators are found in the north. Only one person I knew had ever even claimed to see a black widow, and it was a child and it was at her parents cabin in who-knows-where. Even when we went camping, Dad warned us about 'kitties' (read: skunks), not dangerous predators.

(Northern) Minnesotan here. Don't forget moose! I'd much rather see a black bear in the woods (and I have, several times, even a mama with her cub) than a moose. They will stomp you to death, sometimes just for fun.

Oh yeah. I forgot the smaller wild cats too. I think moose are probably the scariest animal Minnesota has outside the zoos. Maybe deer or cows if you're driving...

The mid-Atlantic is pretty good about nature not killing you. I grew up in suburban Philly — the only wildlife really to worry about were deer (and deer ticks). Every few years there would be a bear sighting, or a tree branch falling on someone’s head while out for a run, but if you’re inland, hurricanes aren’t a problem, you don’t really get snow that can’t be dealt with, no earthquakes, volcanos, wildfires, etc.

The UK?

UK is not entirely safe to people with arachnophobia, as a lad in Sommerset could explain you when in 2005 had a brief but painful encounter with the so called most venomous species of Spider in the world, inside his kitchen.

Ladies, Gentlemen, specially for you, vegan organic food lovers: the wonderful, strong and always elegant Brazilian Wandering Spider.

Peekaboo!: https://www.visitemosmisiones.com/noticias/wp-content/upload...

We have bees and wasps, which cause several deaths per year:

"Estimates of the prevalence of anaphylaxis vary widely. In 2000, it was estimated that 25% of all UK deaths from anaphylaxis were due to reactions to hymenoptera stings. Every year in the UK there are 2–9 deaths due to anaphylaxis from bee or wasp stings."


What about the Hounds of the Baskervilles?

Uncommon although might run into a speckled band here or there.

> Only a handful of specimens (less than 10) have ever been collected in California and usually there is some connection between the spider and a recent move or shipment from the Midwest. There is a great "awareness" of brown recluse spiders in California mostly through a misguided media barrage which is fed by a fear of the unknown and unfamiliar. I repeatedly have seen the media in their "quest to seek out the truth" write completely speculative stories about the existence of the brown recluse in California. Unfortunately, the truth is not nearly good enough to sell news and therefore, a speculative story is fabricated based upon faulty assumptions.

What happens when you mix a brown recluse and a black widow? You get a brown widow. (Not really).

These http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/URBAN/SPIDERS/brown_wido... things are all over SW Florida insofar as I can tell from the egg sacs littering my lanai. There's more to say about them - but not now, I feel bad about passive/aggressive threadjacking. I'll just leave that link here for my fellow Floriduhuns.

I live in So California, and people around here always talk about black widows, and are always surprised to learn of the existence of brown widows.

I find this odd because I never see black widows around my house, but there are easily a dozen brown widows coming out at night around the base of the outside of my house. Pointy egg-sacks everywhere...

Afraid to use the lanai, Blanche?

(sincerest apologies, I just couldn't resist) :D

You’re seeing those spikey looking egg sacs? I’d address that somehow. That’s terrifying.

Yup. About 3/4" in diameter. They look like friendly little puffballs with soft spikes.

In a similar vein, supposedly a lot of "spider bites" are not spider bites (according to source): https://www.livescience.com/37974-he-surprising-cause-of-mos...

I've known people to theorize that many small welts are caused by spider bites even though they didn't see the spider or know when they got bitten.

If clicking something with a clickbaity name isn't your thing, I can save you a click. The cause is "more likely to be bites or stings from other arthropods such as fleas, skin reactions to chemicals or infections."


I read a similar article to this a while back about lack of Brown Recluse populations in Michigan despite a healthy fear and misreporting of sightings.

As a Michigan resident and someone with severe arachnophobia, I'd like to read this article.

This is an odd claim. I live in Riverside where this article was written and found two brown recluse spiders in the last year. One outside by the front door and the second inside my bedroom. The tell tale identifier is the small violin shape in its back. They may not be common in California but they're common in my house in Riverside California just down the road from UCR.

You sure it's not one of the other violin species that were discussed in the article (loxosceles deserta, for example)?

Quite liked this jab """I repeatedly have seen the media in their "quest to seek out the truth" write completely speculative stories about the existence of the brown recluse in California. Unfortunately, the truth is not nearly good enough to sell news and therefore, a speculative story is fabricated based upon faulty assumptions."""

There are literally two in my office right now under my bookshelf. If you have them, you don't find one of these, you find dozens.

Yes I'm here in Kansas laughing. I've had a brown recluse walk down my arm out of my sleeve, and didn't get bit. Just brushed it off and stepped on it. Also my cousin has had several confirmed brown recluse bites. Yes they were painful disgusting etc etc, but didn't kill her or cause any life changing damage...

my Uncle got bit by a spider. Don't know if it was a recluse.

He was getting dressed in the morning. Put his work pants on that were draped over a chair, felt a sting on his thigh and a spider fell on the floor when he ripped off the pant and shook them out. He had a hands width depression that was about an inch deep. This was after it was healed and completely scarred over. I don't know how big it was while healing.

This was in Arkansas though so smack dab in the middle of the territory on that map[0]

Helping some friends on a farm in West Virginia, their greenhouses would fill up with black widows in the early spring before they got around to cleaning them out for the first planting. 1000s of them in each greenhouse. Quickly learned that they are entirely harmless.


Just saying that for many people "squish and ask questions later" is unrelated to how dangerous they are

As someone living right in recluse territory, I'm constantly terrified when going into a closet to get clothes...etc, even though I see black widows all the time. Any time you're at the gas pump or in your garage, look around and you can probably find one.

Yeah, I was hoping that this article would talk about how Brown Recluse aren't actually dangerous (as I live in Texas), but instead it talked about California, and it appears Brown Recluse are still quite dangerous. I see them a lot.

Could we change the title to "Myth of the Brown Recluse in California" or something?

> I was hoping that this article would talk about how Brown Recluse aren't actually dangerous

It does to some degree, with anecdotes of interactions with no ill effects.

Clearly it can cause severe health issues, but the vast majority if the time it doesn't.

It puts it more in the range of plane crashes. They're not good, but they are rare, even if you're flying on a plane regularly.

And then you have California, which is terrified of plane crashes, either that they might be in one or that they're in the middle of one right now, even though they never fly and have no need or intention of ever flying.

Did people here read the whole thing? This is some good reading! "The whole state would be evacuated" if even one live spider, as opposed to an "ex-spider" were found. That is good stuff! This made my day.

If people in the midwest are laughing, imagine how Australians feel.


Redbacks can be fairly common but if you encourage daddy long legs and leave the house spiders alone you'll rarely find one. House spiders though can make you quite sick if you get bitten.

Sydney funnel web spiders are dangerous and aggressive - enough said.

White-tailed spiders that also get blamed for necrotic lesions but is likely bacterial are fast and tend to wander. They'll sidestep a shoe and jump at you before disappearing. I've spent hours upending a room after losing sight of one.

Most people though are more scared of huntsman spiders and they can get pretty big and move fast. There's a certain type that are thicker in body and will come at you. You think you have it pinned under the broom head and the next second it's racing up the handle jumping at you.

I live in Brown Recluse country. For a little over a year, I lived in an apartment absolutely infested with Brown Recluse spiders. The entire block of apartments (i.e. units sharing one roof) had the problem. AFAIK, we were the only block at the complex with the issue. Early on in living there I captured several of the spiders and had them identified. I was terrified, to say the least.

When I say infestation, I mean it literally. It was very unusual to make it to bedtime without killing at least one Brown Recluse. The most we ever killed in one night was 15. We would wake up all hours of the night, turn on our phone flashlights, and scan the room for any lurking on the ceiling or walls. Usually, the midnight scans would bear fruit. To this day I wake up in the middle of the night and reach for my phone before remembering that I'm no longer in that situation.

One year and one week after moving into the apartment, I was bitten. One of the poor creatures found its way under my covers and into my shirt while I was sleeping. I rolled over on top of it and it bit me. The burn/itching actually woke me up shortly after and I was able to recover the spider from inside my shirt. I absolutely panicked, rounded up my entire family to drive me to the ER at 3 AM (because surely I was going to go into some kind of shock or other state of impairment) and even called the doctor on the way. Halfway to the ER, the doctor called back. He told me not to panic, and that there was actually nothing they could do about it right this minute. He told me to go home, go to sleep, and watch the bite for any signs of infection/necrosis.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the best advice I've ever heard regarding Brown Recluses.

All in all, the bite amounted to little more than a massive mosquito bite. My body did have an allergic reaction (broke out in a rash head to toe) but it was honestly nothing like the horror stories. We moved two months later, but I'll never let myself forget the overreaction I presented and how silly it all was.

I actually started to feel that I was getting to know them. Brown Recluses are exactly that: reclusive. They want nothing to do with us. They are magnificent hunters and terrible climbers (this is how they end up in your bed: they fall). They tend to stick to the edges of the room and are the only spider I've ever seen with a distinct "stalk" instead of a twitchy walk. They're honestly beautiful to watch (as I used to often).

If you do have a Brown Recluse problem, don't panic. It took me over a year to get bitten while living in an actual nest of them and even then it was a freak accident. Buy yourself some of those rectangular glue traps and place them along your walls, behind furniture, and in the back of closets. Brown Recluses can be dangerous to children under the age of 7 and the elderly (which is why we moved promptly) so don't ignore them entirely. Learn to respect them for what they are just like anything else.

>>One year and one week after moving into the apartment, I was bitten. One of the poor creatures found its way under my covers and into my shirt while I was sleeping

OK, I think I'm going to step outside to get some air...

I know it sounds terrible, but it's honestly a rare thing. We never found one on our bed, ever. The first time I know of one being in our bed was that night.

I've spoken a lot with the Entomology department at a well-known university to try and learn as much as possible about these spiders. From what I've learned, Brown Recluse spiders actually have a hard time biting people (physically and mentally). They need encouragement - such as a life threatening situation - to even want to bite us. Even then, I've been told that they have physical trouble biting us hard enough to break through much skin and need help in that department as well (i.e. rolling/stepping onto one where the added force assists them in biting deeper).

The experience cost me about a half-tube of hydrocortisone cream but thats really it.

Oddly enough, even here in Oregon there's a persistent myth that we have those things.

TL;DR: There are no populations of brown recluse spiders living in California.

I've had people tell me that brown recluse don't live in Washington, and that it's a similar "myth", but one of my friends got bit by one in high school and ended up with a hole in his leg the size of a marble

i love how sassy this articles is -- mostly borne out of anger on how stupid people are.


Actually that seems likely.


I think it’s less suggesting a conspiracy and more suggesting media hysteria and lack of fact checking. It relates to the Gell-Mann: a lot of the media, and especially local TV news, is really terrible and careless about their coverage of technical subjects

Biologists have complained for years about fear-mongering by the media when it comes to certain scary animals (sharks probably being the #1 victims). It's not that the media is lying per se, it's just an overstatement of the danger presented by these types of animals. It's not a conspiracy to lie, just sensationalist journalism (a problem, but much less sinister)

He's promoting distrust in the media and this is dangerous for our democracy.

I'm not sure if you're just being sarcastic at this point or not...Let's just assume you're not because hey, good faith and all that.

There is a wide gap between "the media sometimes sensationalizes things that are traumatic and scary which causes people to believe that these events/things are more common than they actually are" and "this person is systematically sewing distrust in the media as a means of properly moving information from one location to the other, thus destroying the media's credibility and undermining our free society".

The whole "fake news" problem, wherein people just attempt to discredit factual information they disagree with by claiming it isn't real or important, is not the same as a person pointing out a well documented (and discussed) trend in certain segments of the media to go for "click-bait".

You're not arguing that click-bait style writing isn't real, right? You're not going to try and tell me that a research associate somehow knows less about his field of study than some random member of the media, are you?

With something like this, brown recluses in California. Where a lot of people believe it, because it's a "known fact". Well local media is populated by a lot of those people. They're probably not knowingly lying or creating a conspiracy. Just talking about something "everybody knows", and it just happens that that fact is mostly wrong.

There isn't a problem with saying the media is wrong, misinformed, or lying, if you have hard evidence to support that claim.

Trump's problem is he just claims any negative news are malicious lies, and rarely has anything to support his claims even a little bit. And that he, the undisciplined lair, is the only reputable source of information anyone should listen to, if they were smart anyway.

Big difference.

Directly from the article:

> I repeatedly have seen the media in their "quest to seek out the truth" write completely speculative stories about the existence of the brown recluse in California. Unfortunately, the truth is not nearly good enough to sell news and therefore, a speculative story is fabricated based upon faulty assumptions.

He's strongly and cynically implying that the media doesn't sincerely seek the truth and runs stories based on whether the story sells. Promoting distruse in the media like this is dangerous for our society, we've see what happens when Trump does it.

He then goes about spending his entire article (and in fact, a whole ass book!: http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=8014010049221...) talking about the spider in question and why it's misunderstood by laymen. The man is an expert in his field lobbing a (valid) criticism about media representation of one specific matter.

Criticizing the media with proper rationale is fair, but he's going a step further. He's strongly implying they are doing this for the money. No need for him to imply that or even assign any motive to why the media is wrong on this topic. It suffices for him to say they are wrong and to show how. He's putting forth a bad faith theory and this is also what Trump does. This sort of cynicism / assumption of poor motives towards the media is bad for society.

There's no evidence to suggest they intentionally write brown recluse stories because it sells more. It's just as likely the media also gets innocently wrapped up in the myth. I'm not sure how you're defending that quote.

DRTS; (For those of you who didn't read, because... font too small) - Brown recluse spiders, in general, don't bite people unless you have less than 20/20 vision. In that case, you should run for the hills, esp. if you don't know how to zoom in the browser. A+ for content, but accessibility less so.

I believe it would be FS;DR

But, in case you are serious: CTRL++ to zoom in. CTRL+0 to reset to normal.

I know how to zoom, but many people don't. I normally wouldn't say anything, but that font is smaller than a baby recluse

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