The Brown Recluse Spider : Questions and Answers

The brown recluse spider is one of the most feared spiders in the United States, next to the black widow spider. However, there are more brown recluse spider deaths in the United States each year than those caused from black widows. Here are a few questions and answers concerning the potentially deadly spider:

Brown Recluse Spider
Brown Recluse Spider photo by Oakley Originals, Creative Commons License. (Original cropped).

What does a brown recluse spider look like?

The adult Brown Recluse Spider is most known for its distinctive dark violin shaped marking in which the neck of the violin is pointing toward the abdomen. This spider is 7 to 13 mm in length with eight legs in two rows of four. These legs have no spines but fine hairs and are usually a lighter shade than the rest of the body. Brown Recluse spiders come in a range of tan to dark brown colors. Although most spiders have eight eyes, the Brown Recluse has six eyes, separated into three groups of two. Spiderlings resemble the adults in structure but have lighter coloration. Both male and female Brown Recluses look similar.

Where are they found in the United States?

Brown Recluses are found in the central and southern states of the U.S. in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. There are isolated incidents in which they have been found in some other states as well, but are found most often in the aforementioned states. Other recluse species live in other areas of the United States, such as the Southwest.

Where can the brown recluse be found in and around the home?

For the most part, the spider avoids human activity, living in dark places. They can be found living in closets, guest rooms, basements, and attics. Outdoors, the recluse hides in barns, sheds, wood piles, and under objects laying on the ground. At times, they can be seen crawling on walls, floors, and other exposed surfaces.

What do the egg sacks look like?

The silk-like egg sacks are 14 mm high and 17 mm wide. Inside the sacks are 40-50 tiny yellow eggs. They are most often found in dark sheltered places, usually away from human activity. The female lays her eggs in the months of May, June, or July.

What are its mating habits?

The spiders mate during the summer months after the male has impressed the female enough to be allowed to mate with her. The female Brown Recluse requires the male to impress her before he is allowed to mate with her. He does this by performing a dance. If this does not work, he brings her a choice food. If she accepts the food, then he is allowed to mate with her. If she does not accept, the broken hearted male must find another female to impress.

What is the life cycle of the brown recluse?

After the eggs hatch, the spiderlings undergo at least one shedding of skin (also called a molt) within the egg sack. Within the next 7 to 12 months, the spiderlings will undergo six to seven more molts before they reach the adult stage. This spider can survive several months without food or water, and the female Brown Recluse can lay five egg sacks in her lifetime. The average Brown Recluse lives about one to two years, but there are some which are able to live up to five years.

How do they migrate indoors?

Brown Recluses make their way inside by crawling through holes on the building’s exterior, gaps under doors, through vents, utility penetrations, beneath the edge of siding, and other cracks and crevices around the structure.

What do they eat?

These spiders feed on insects and other arthropods after hunting them, dead or alive, at night.

When will a brown recluse spiders bite?

The Brown Recluse is not an aggressive spider and therefore hardly ever bites. Most bites occur when the recluse is responding to body pressure, such as when it is inadvertently trapped against bare skin. Most times, people are bitten when rolling over in bed, moving stored items, or putting on a piece of clothing in which the spider was hiding.

What is a common reaction to a Brown Recluse bite?

Usually painless at first, the intensity of pain increases later. Reactions to bite may vary from mild to severe depending on the venom and the sensitivity of the victim.

What does a Brown Recluse Spider bite look like?

Six to twelve hours after the Brown Recluse has bitten a small white blister will form. It will be inflamed and hard to the touch. The tissues of the blister eventually turn into purple and then later black. The black skin flakes away in a few weeks.

How long does it take for the bite to heal?

It takes about six to eight weeks for the bite to heal.

How dangerous is the bite?

The venom released into the human body after a bite can cause serious wounds and infections. The bite usually leaves a deep scar and causes fevers, chills, dizziness, and rash or vomiting. Severe reactions to the venom are more common in children, the elderly, and patients in poor health. Although the bite is dangerous, it is rarely ever fatal.

What should be done when a person is bitten by a Brown Recluse?

After being bitten by a Brown Recluse, one must apply ice, elevate the affected area, and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

How can one avoid being bitten?

Precautions can be taken to lessen the chance of being bitten by a Brown Recluse. Beds should be moved away from walls, other furnishings, and drapes. Skirts and bedspreads should be removed to break contact with the floor. Shoes and clothing should be left off the floor or shaken out well before wearing.