I was at an annual environmental camp and I was bit by something. Because I didn’t see what bit me, and because it is a necrotizing wound, it was diagnosed as brown recluse bite… with a treatment for tickborne disease just for good measure. I have little doubt it was a spider bite, it had the two little classic fang marks and I have been bit by enough spiders to recognize how I react to spider venom. I am not positive it was a recluse.
When a doctor diagnoses a patient with a brown recluse bite, they are frequently using the diagnosis as a catch all term for a necrotic skin ulcer. Is a necrotic skin ulcer fun? No. Frequently, though, it is a bad bacterial infection or fungal infection misdiagnosed as a recluse bite (my brother had a MRSA infection that was called a recluse bite… and then it reoccurred in the exact same spot), or it is a bad reaction to a bite by another kind of spider or insect, which can, if you react to bug bites like I do, cause quite the reaction. I got bit by a bitty little jewel orb weaver last year and it bothered me quite a lot. The bite I have right now is disgusting and awful; I am not saying the diagnosis is wrong, and regardless, the treatment I was given for the bite is right. The only point I am trying to make is the brown recluse does not cause as many bites as are reported.
I guess this makes me special if I was bitten…
Spiders get some bad press. I personally love spiders. Even if I did get bit by a recluse, I can pinpoint when it happened, and I wouldn’t blame the little guy/lady. I am huge and scary and, let’s face it, pretty clumsy. I would have terrified it and it would have had no escape. The only option would have been to give me a lil’ nip and hope it would then have time to run away. Unfortunately I didn’t know I was bit until much later, I assume the spider got away safely, and I hope it did. Spiders aren’t out to get us. Spiders are our pals, our buddies. They eat all the bugs that are NOT our friends. They eat the things that fly up in our faces and transmit diseases. I have a wolf spider living under my couch that eats all the house centipedes (I HATE house centipedes).
This creepy image came up when I was looking up “shy recluse.” And that is how most people picture recluses… lurking around corners.
Recluses were named because they are shy and don’t like being around areas of activity. The name, however, seems to give the impression that these spiders lurk in corners waiting to ambush people. The big MYTH to dispel: I have a hard time with this one because, having grown up in recluse territory, this one has been deeply ingrained in me… recluses are extremely unlikely to hide in shoes. A shoe would make a recluse feel trapped (even before your foot is in it) and it would smell like you long after you wore the shoe. That is not to say a recluse has NEVER hid in a shoe (the myth probably started from some truth), but it is probably one of the last places a recluse would pick to hide.
They think we stink. The cartoon says so.
Having lived in Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi, I have heard lots of stories about recluse infested buildings. Heck, one of the buildings at my undergraduate institution had been infested at one point, and it was rumored the basement was still filled with recluses. Oddly enough, many of these stories are true. The infestation occurrence with recluses is not understood, because they ARE shy animals and they don’t like being close to other spiders. You may notice, though, in all of these infestation scenarios (at least all the ones I have ever heard and all the major ones in the news), no one living in the buildings gets bit. Here is a great summary of one of these instances that really helps take away the sensationalism that most journalism gives to these stories.
It’s true that most people see a brown spider and they assume it’s a recluse. I have been guilty of this myself. And, honestly, if you are afraid a spider is a recluse, are you really going to take the time to check the eyes or inspect the “fiddle?” If you look at enough pictures, though, the recluse is pretty distinct and hard to misidentify. If you are faced with an unfamiliar brown spider, be cautious, scoop it up in a container, and check a photo. If it IS a recluse… I would just put it safely outside. But that’s me. I like my spider friends, they keep me safe. I also sleep with 4 tarantulas above my bed (in tanks, of course, but still).
Wolf Spider (probably my favorite spider)
House spider (I used to mistake these for recluses all the time)
Recluse! The fiddle sometimes isn’t that obvious. The eyes are the best way to tell: 6 in 3 pairs.
Additionally… the scary pictures of recluse bites you see online? Some of them are real. The SUPER NASTY disgusting ones that show people’s limbs falling off? Not a recluse bite. You can find the exact same pictures under labels for different injuries. These pictures are reused in order to freak people out. What are they actually from? I could guess, but they have been reused so much it is hard to say. I can say that your entire hand does not turn black, with pus and bone exposure, on “day 3” after the bite.
Do brown recluses bite? Yes, but only if they think they are in grave danger and have no escape route. They are flighters, not fighters. Does a brown recluse bite hurt like the dickens and will it take a long time (up to 6 months) to heal? Yes. Will it kill you? No death has ever been recorded from a brown recluse bite, so unless you’re the first, highly unlikely.
Respect the recluse! Don’t hate. They keep our ecosystem balanced and happy and healthy. And they play the fiddle.
I really wanted there to be a picture of a spider playing the fiddle. Why does that not exist???? This is as close as I could find.