Thursday, April 30, 2009

Unexpected Camping visitor

This spider is one of two highly venomous spiders in Missouri. it is called the "Brown Recluse". While their bite is rarely fatal, it can cause necrosis to the skin cells and muscle tissue. This necrosis results in large lesions that are slow to heal and can leave scars. This would be an extreme response to a bite. Typically you will get nothing more than a small blister that will heal without any complications at all. Since none of us knows how our bodies will react to a bite from one of these spiders it is always best to err on the side of caution and avoid them. Sometimes this is hard to do. Their hunting habits often put them in contact with people. They are solitary hunters that do not build webs. Instead they roam and stalk their prey. This means they can be anywhere. They like areas that give them hiding spots, garages, basements, attics and sheds are all good places to find these spiders. Brown Recluse spiders are not large, in fact as far as spiders go they are rather small to medium sized spiders. Measuring about the size of a quarter legs and all. Their bodies are uniformly brown. There is really nothing special about their appearance...except the distinguishing mark on their cephalothorax. This is the characteristic fiddle marking. It is this marking that gives this species it's other common name of "Fiddler Spider". The one pictured came with us, quite univited I might add, on a camping trip we took last fall. We unfolded a camping chair to discover her hidden inside the chair guarding a small disc shaped web with tiny spiderlings underneath. These were her offspring. We captured her so I could use her for an upcoming insect event I was helping to host. Her babies were destroyed. This was the first encounter I had ever had with this spider. Later that night at the bathhouse we discovered two more in residence at the park we were staying at. They really are quite lovely to look at, if you can get past the fact that they are an 8 legged creature that can rot your skin with one bite. I believe these spiders are much more common than people realize. It is their somewhat secrative nature that keeps us from seeing them. An exterminator told us that they are near to impossible to destroy. Pesticides do not work on them as they do other spiders and insects. With these spiders you actually have to touch them with the chemical to kill them. They will not carry the bait or chemical back to other spiders to aide in spreading it around for a more effective kill rate. When I hear of people whose homes are infested with these spiders it makes me shiver to think of it. Fortunately for me the spider that showed up camping with us did not come from our home or our chair. It was my mothers. I heard that in Missouri at a barn 40 of these spiders were located in about an hour. This gives you an idea of how plentiful they really are. I will say that even though I get squeamish around spiders, after our insect event we did release this female to the woods to go about her business. I couldn't bring myself to destroy her.


  1. Nice article. I do wish to clarify that these spiders do spin webs, albeit not terribly expansive, the web issuing from a silken retreat in a crevice....There are 13 species in North America, including native and introduced species, most of which are confined to the southwestern U.S. Their distinctive arrangement of only SIX eyes (not the usual 8) is much more accurate in trying to identify them than the "fiddle" mark. Do check out Bug Guide for lots of images of these spiders. Keep up the great work!

  2. Thank you for the comment. It is always nice to have additional information to share with visitors to this blog. I was not aware that they built any sort of web, so I learned something too. I try to focus on Missouri specimens only. I believe Missouri is home to only one species.

  3. My one weakness: spiders. I love bugs, and I love to photograph spiders, but the thought of having one crawling around gives me the heebie jeebies.

  4. Amen Moe, I'm with you on that. Spiders are cool from a distance. I bought a tarantula in hopes of getting over my trepidations about these eight-legged beasts, but alas, it escaped! Now I have the fear of that thing becoming big and hairy and ending up in my bed.

  5. You couldn't kill her but killed her babies? Hmmmm

    1. I was able to use the female as a display spider at the nature center where I worked. I did not need approximately 30 babies and risk them getting loose somewhere. In hindsight I wish I would've just taken them into the woods and let them go. But you have to understand I am a recovering arachnophobe . I spent four years overcoming my fear of spiders, and I must say quite successfully too. I now own four tarantulas, work with spiders on a regular basis, and wouldn't dream of killing a spider at this point in my life.