Thursday, July 28, 2005

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Consider the following a public service announcement:

When I recently saw one of my colleagues limping around, I just assumed he had sprained an ankle. He wishes. In fact, he is recovering from a spider bite. The other night, he saw what he thought was just one of those house spiders, the kind you inevitably get during the summer months. (This reminds me of my mother's catchphrase: Well, it's the summer, which went for anything: "Mom, wasps flew into the house!" Well, it's the summer. "There's a snake in the pool!" Well, it's the summer. "Street gangs are wilding through Central Park!" Well, it's the summer.)

Oh, right, back to the spider. My colleague thought nothing of it as it quickly crawled away. The next morning he awoke to find an abrasion on his leg. Over time it worsened until there appeared a giant red swelling with a black center. Eventually he goes to the hospital and learns he was bitten by a poisonous (though usually nonlethal) spider known as a brown recluse. These guys can be nasty. According to the website eMedicine, bites from a brown recluse "can cause significant cutaneous injury with tissue loss and necrosis. Less frequently, more severe reactions develop, including systemic hemolysis, coagulopathy, renal failure, and, rarely, death." If you're like me, you pretty much stopped reading after the word necrosis.

"Females lay eggs in flattened egg sacs that are frequently attached to the underside of objects," reports "Up to 40 spiderlings may hatch from a single egg sac. A single female may produce up to five egg sacs in a summer." I mention this because my coworker has yet to find the spider, which prefers dark places. A female brown recluse can live up to four years.

As my mother would say...


Anonymous said...


It should be noted that brown recluse bites are incredibly rare.

Anonymous said...

The week before I moved to Phoenix (about 14 years ago), I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how 1/4 of all black widow spider bites were in the Phoenix area.

When I got out here, I started being very careful about placing my hands and fingers in corners and underneath things when I was outside or in the garage. I have only seen a few but they are there

I occasionly see brown spiders in the house, probably coming in after the crickets. I don't know if they are recluse or just wolf spiders but I don't take chances- they meet either the shoe or if they scamper off I rain chemical death from above

Between the killer bees, black widows, and fire ants Phoenix is just full of warm and cuddly creatures. I won't even go into the article in the paper today about the newcomers to Scottsdale who freak and call the fire department when they see a rattler by the house - rookies

That Dude said...

I dont mean to sound like CLiff Claven...but erra Sammy....the thing behind brown recluses (and its more popular Amereican cousing the black recluse) is that they are native to australia and only got to America by getting on big ass AF transport planes. We now have a bunch of brown recs in the SC area. Yes the Brown bite is rare, but only because there arent many of them.

Anonymous said...

My father has the dubious distinction of being the only person I know of to be bitten by a Copperhead snake (on the finger, swelling and discomfort), a Backwidow spider (deliriums and hospitalization), and a Brown recluse. (ulceration of the leg and considerable skin loss) We kids thought it was pretty funny--just one of the joys of living in Arkansas.

T. Beth said...

Another horrifying fact about these secretive spiders is that they like to hide in clothing and bedding, and many people are bitten in bed or when they are putting on clothes in the morning.

Anonymous said...

While living in Kearny, NJ, just outside Newark, I was bitten by a spider on my eyelid and twice on my nose while I slept. I noticed a small swelling the next morning, didn't think anything of it, but by evening my eyelid was swollen and my forehead was starting to swell. I went to the hospital, and they told me if I had waited much longer the poison could have gotten into my brain and... you get the idea. I wasn't hospitalized, but had a bunch of pills to take. This spider poison also caused necrosis, and I have a shallow, nickel-sized dent in my eyelid from it. The doctors couldn't tell me what did it, because I didn't see the spider, but I tracked down the guy in NJ who handles vector-spread illness (bees, mosquitoes, spiders, whatever bites and stings) and he said his best guess was a yellow sac spider, which is common in NJ.

And here's interesting info: "It is likely that many U.S. cases of necrotic arachnidism ascribed to the brown recluse spider outside of its natural range, are actually yellow sac spider bites." That's exactly what the vector specialist told me. Oh, and the site says it's the "most common" household spider in Boston, MA, and is common in NYC.

S. Cornett

Anonymous said...

I love it when everyone freaks out about Brown Recluse bites without knowing the first thing about them.
1: The Brown Recluse is most commonly found in the midwest and south, bites that occur outside this range that are attributed to the Brown Recluse are most often NOT Brown Recluse bites.
2: While Necrosis can occur, most bites heal within 3-4 weeks without incident, like a bad mosquito bite.
3: It's hard to be bitten by a Brown Recluse, as they are not aggressive in the slightest. Most bites occur when the skin is pressed up against the spider, like putting a bare foot in a shoe. It is incredibly unlikely that a spider would crawl on top of a person while sleeping and bite them for the fun of it.
4: The bite itself isn't painful. In fact, this is actually a danger because the pain usually doesn't appear for several days after the bite. If it were a painful bite like a bee-sting then victims would be quicker to seek medical attention. Instead, it is easy to be bitten and not realize it until a necrotic ulcer forms.

To the person who laughed at Scottsdale newcomers freaked out by rattlers: Snakes are the deadliest animals in the world. They are responsible for more human deaths in the US and the world than any other animal. The rattlesnake is the most highly evolved snake in the world, and quite deadly. If you don't call animal control or the fire department after spotting a rattler near your home, then you're an idiot.

Anonymous said...

That Dude:
Yes, the Brown Recluse (Loxosceles reclusa) is not native, but there are 11 native Loxosceles spiders that produce necrotic arachnidism. And the reason the native species aren't responsible for more bites isn't because there aren't many of them, but because they live where there aren't many people.

Anonymous said...

Ok I'm the one who posted about the rattlesnakes in Scottsdale... I'm not sure if I would be calling the fire department everytime I saw a rattler so I must be an idiot :)

In all seriousness...

The person above who commented above about there not being more native spider bites because those spiders tend not to live around people makes a point analogous to here in the Phoenix area. As the Phoenix area expands and pushes out into the desert, the new housing displaces the native animal population, especially in the northern areas which has been desert as opposed to the south and west which is still largely farmland. That population might be displaced but they don’t go far- people in north Scottsdale, Phoenix/Cave Creek who have built houses bordering on the brush are surprised to see rattlers out on their pool deck. You move out to the desert, the desert moves in with you.

Yes I might call the fire department if I had kids and saw a rattler by the pool but the tone of people I meet who move into these areas and of the articles in the paper every year is of complete surprise- what do they expect? Thus the rookie comment.

I have a house in Chandler just east of Phoenix and neighbors on both sides have scorpions in the house, one found them in his bath linen the other found one in her purse at the store. At my friend’s house by downtown Phoenix I have seen coyotes walking down the street looking at cars- the police say this is a common occurrence. People in her neighborhood still let out their cats into the yard- thus the coyotes

This is Arizona we expect such things- but dangerous spiders in Kearny (I lived in Hunterdon County for 14 years)? That’s scary