Brown recluse spiders are venomous spiders, native to the United States and found coast to coast. Aside from their potent venom, brown recluse spiders present a high risk factor because they commonly live in houses.
The brown recluse spider is light tan to brown, and fairly small at about 1/4"-1/2" (6mm to 12mm). It is covered with short hair that gives it a fuzzy, sometimes shiny appearance. The legs are darker and are not spined. On the back of the brown recluse spider there is a marking that closely resembles a violin, with the neck of the violin pointing back towards the rear of the spider. The violin itself is usually black or dark brown. Because of this distinctive marking, brown recluse spiders are also called violin or fiddleback spiders.
Brown recluse spiders will seek out secluded areas to live inside the home. Advantageous spots are relatively dark and undisturbed, such as closets, inside clothes or shoes, or under furniture. They may also live outside the house. Brown recluse spiders are not aggressive but bites can occur when the spider is unknowingly disturbed. This usually occurs when slipping on clothes, cleaning areas like a garage, or while sleeping, as the spiders often hide in bedding.
The symptoms of a brown recluse spider bite can vary depending on the amount of venom injected, and the health of the victim. People with compromised systems; children and the elderly are at higher risk of developing more severe reactions. A brown recluse spider bite is rarely deadly, but it can be serious, producing severe flu-like symptoms such as nausea, chills and fever. Necrosis, which breaks down cells and tissues at the site of the bite, can create an open wound that is slow to heal. It some cases this wound will continue to grow, which can lead to potentially serious complications. In rare cases systemic problems can last years, causing recurring necrosis at the site of any new injury.
To discourage brown recluse spiders from taking up residence in your home keep darkened areas as clean as possible. Remove storage boxes from under the bed, and avoid bedskirts. Wear gloves, long sleeves and long pants when working in areas that would attract brown recluse spiders, like the garage, woodpile, barn or shed. Check gloves, boots and shoes before slipping them on, and shake out clothes. Make sure all screens on your home fit tightly, and use door sweeps. Consider plastic tubs and plastic bags for storage rather than cardboard boxes.
If bitten by a brown recluse spider see your doctor or your nearest poison center. There is no antivenin but treatment can be provided. The bite of a brown recluse spider can be misdiagnosed as the bite of a hobo spider, or even symptoms of Lyme disease, so bring the spider with you if possible. If you can't locate the spider, or aren't sure when you were bit, pull back your bedding and check your sheets. A crushed or dead spider still has diagnostic value.