Original date of publication: August 17, 2009
More lies are told about the brown recluse spider, Loxosceles reclusa, than any other arthropod in North America. Public hysteria about this shy spider has been fueled by media hype and medical misdiagnosis. It's time to set the record straight.
My rebuttals to each of these statements are not based on my own opinions, but on the most current scientific research by experts in the field.
1. Brown recluse spiders live in my state.
That depends, but for most of the U.S, this statement is false. The range of the brown recluse spider is limited to the red area on this map. If you live outside this area, brown recluse spiders do not live in your state. Period.
Rick Vetter of the University of California challenged people to send him spiders they believed were brown recluses. Of 1,779 arachnids submitted from 49 states, only 4 brown recluse spiders came from outside its known range. One was found in a California home; the owners had just moved from Missouri. The remaining three spiders were found in a shed in coastal Virginia. Attempts to find more brown recluses in the area came up empty, suggesting an isolated population of unknown origin.
2. A brown recluse spider bit my friend, and he nearly lost his foot.
This would be a rare and unusual case, so I consider any such statements suspect. The truth is this: the majority of confirmed brown recluse bites do not result in serious skin lesions. In those patients whose lesions do become necrotic, a full two-thirds heal without complications. The worst lesions may take several months to heal and leave significant scarring, but the risk of loss of limbs from a brown recluse bite is just about nil.
3. I know someone who died from a brown recluse bite.
According to Dr. Phillip Anderson, a Missouri physician and recognized authority on brown recluse bites, there has never been a verifiable death as a result of a brown recluse spider bite in North America. End of story.
4. My cousin was attacked by a brown recluse spider.
Brown recluse spiders do not attack people, they defend themselves when disturbed. A brown recluse is more inclined to flee than to fight. Brown recluse spiders are (as their name suggests) reclusive. They hide in cardboard boxes, wood piles, or even laundry left on the floor. When someone disturbs their hideout, the spider may bite in defense. People who have been bitten by a brown recluse often report that they put on an article of clothing in which the spider was hiding.
5. The doctor said my brother's wound was definitely a brown recluse bite.
Unless your brother saw the spider bite him and brought the suspect spider to the doctor with him, and the doctor wisely sent the spider to an arachnologist for identification, there is no way for that doctor to prove the wound was caused by a brown recluse spider. Doctors have been misdiagnosing brown recluse bites for years. Many other medical conditions cause wounds similar to brown recluse bites, including Lyme disease, burns, diabetic ulcers, bacterial infections, lymphoma, and even herpes. If your doctor diagnoses you with a brown recluse bite without seeing a spider, you should question the doctor, especially if you live outside of the brown recluse spiders' range.