Brown Recluse Spider – Identification

Q: I have a spider I think is a brown recluse. How can I identify it?

A: According to my exteemed colleague and insect expert, Dr. Paul Guillebeau, you may have a spider…but it probably isn’t a brown recluse.

He comments:

“When the topic turns to the brown recluse spider, grown men shudder and shake out their shoes. According to my colleague (Dr. Nancy Hinkle), Georgia residents are unlikely to encounter a brown recluse. In a five-year study, Dr. Hinkle asked people to send in spiders suspected of being the dreaded brown recluse. Approximately 500 spiders were submitted, but only 14 locations sent in brown recluse spiders. Dr. Hinkle and her coauthors combined their data with historical information and determined that only 26 counties (out of Georgia’s 159) were documented to have brown recluse spiders.

“Nearly all of the brown recluse spiders were submitted from counties in the northwest to north-central regions of Georgia. Only one brown recluse was submitted from a county (Houston County) in the coastal plain region of Georgia. Because that spider seemed so out of place, the authors thought it might have been have transported to Houston County.

“The range of the brown recluse spider in the U.S. is centered in the Missouri/Arkansas region. A person with some knowledge of spiders can usually win a $10 bet that he or she can find a brown recluse spider. Georgia is on the periphery of the spider’s range, and you had better keep that $10 in your pocket. Individual houses may be heavily infested with brown recluse spiders, but the spiders are not common as they are in the heart of their range.

“In the eleven years I have been with UGA Extension, many people have asked me to identify spiders because they were afraid they bore the curse of the brown recluse. Except for one sample, none of the spiders was a brown recluse. However, the homeowner that submitted the brown recluse had dozens of them. We told her to get help from a professional pest control operator. Infestations of brown recluse spiders can be difficult to eliminate, and it is hard to sleep comfortably dreaming of spiders.

“The range of the brown recluse in Georgia has been greatly exaggerated by mis-diagnoses. Brown recluse spiders can cause a tissue necrosis (the tissue dies around the bite area), although this symptom is not common. However, many other conditions can cause similar lesions. If a doctor cannot determine another cause, the lesion may be attributed to a spider bite. Since the spider is not around to testify, it is found guilty in absentia.

“Do not stick your hands in places you cannot see, but try not to lose sleep over things that may creep slowly up the bedclothes at night when you lay sleeping.

If spiders still frighten you, buy some broad, flat shoes and some shoes with very pointy toes. That way, you can kill large numbers of spiders at once and get rid of the ones that retreat into corners.

For pictures, see Brown Recluse Spider.

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