Brown Recluse Spider Bites: What You Need to Know

Published October 28th, 2021 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Erik Rivera

What is a Brown Recluse Spider? | Why do they Bite? | Symptoms | Medical Attention | Prevention

Brown recluse spiders are a common species of spider that sometimes can live in homes. They mainly live in the midwest and south, ranging from as far north as Iowa and down to Texas and as far east as Georgia. Brown recluse spiders are typically not a dangerous spider as they tend to avoid humans and will only bite if they feel threatened or provoked. Most times, the symptoms are mild from brown recluse spider envenomation (being bitten which means having venom injected into your body) and this is why many brown recluse bites go unreported; people don't know it happened, but there can be some very severe symptoms too. In this article, we will discuss the symptoms of being bitten by a brown recluse spider, when to seek medical attention, and how to prevent bites in the future.

What is a brown recluse spider?

A brown recluse spider, also called Loxosceles reclusa, violin spider, fiddleback spider, and brown fiddler, is a six-eyed brown spider that is commonly found in the United States. These spiders are typically between ten and fifteen millimeters long, with their leg span averaging around twenty-five millimeters, which is a little under an inch. However, brown recluse spiders can be difficult to identify because of their color range; they can either be light or dark-colored. The physical attributes of a brown recluse spider include a brown color with a darker violin-shaped mark on the cephalothorax, also known as the body. Brown recluse spiders are one of three types of venomous spiders in North America, the others being the black widow spider and the Chilean recluse spider.

Brown recluse spiders are relatively common in the United States. They typically live outdoors, but will occasionally enter homes or other buildings. The normal habitat for a brown recluse is dry, and it is common to find them in garages or under porches. In homes where brown recluse spiders are found indoors, they usually reside inside dark places such as basements, closets, attics, crawl spaces, storage areas, or behind walls. They typically spin webs in undisturbed places, such as in boxes or inside clothing.

The lifecycle of a brown recluse spider is typically between one and three years. During this time, the brown recluse spider will go through four life stages: egg sacs (which can contain up to fifty eggs), infancy or immaturity, adulthood, and senescence or old age. The female brown recluse typically lays around fifteen to forty-five egg sacs during her lifetime, which are about .04 inches in diameter, or around 1 millimeter. The egg sacs typically hatch within twenty-five to thirty days, and the spiderlings will stay near their mother for around three weeks before dispersing on their own.

brown recluse bite

Why do brown recluse spiders bite?

Brown recluse spiders usually bite when they feel threatened; therefore, many brown recluse spider bites occur when someone accidentally touches a spider hidden in clothing or bedding. The behavior of a brown recluse spider is to avoid humans, and a bite is the only defense mechanism they have. Brown recluse spiders will usually retreat while biting but can continue to bite while being defensive if their venom supplies are low or if multiple bites occur in one feeding session.

What are the symptoms of a brown recluse spider bite?

The symptoms of brown recluse spider bites vary depending on how much venom is injected into the victim and where the person was bitten, for example, it is more dangerous to be bitten around your head. If you think you might have been bitten by a brown recluse spider, please see your doctor for medical attention.

The most common symptom associated with a brown recluse spider bite is a red bump or skin lesion, which forms after the initial bite. The wound will typically appear as a small red bump that spreads and causes inflammation in the surrounding tissue. In severe cases of brown recluse bites, large wounds can result from necrosis or cell death due to venom from the brown recluse spider resulting in a lesion called a necrotic ulcer which has tissue damage, and dead tissue. This can cause the many severe symptoms of a brown recluse bite, including intense pain, fever, confusion or disorientation, nausea, body aches, and vomiting.

 
Jack’s World of Wildlife - These bites hurt!

When should I seek medical attention for my brown recluse spider bite?

Most bites heal on their own within one to two months when they are treated correctly by cleaning the wound with water and soap and applying antibiotic lotion or cream to the area and only have mild symptoms. Keep the bitten area elevated and also apply ice packs to the bite area. An ice pack should be on the bite for 5 to 10 minutes and then have a 5-10 minute break and repeat.  However, you should always seek treatment if you are bitten to ensure none of the severe reactions happen to you. If symptoms of a brown recluse bite get worse, like increasing severe pain or numbness in the limb that was bitten, then it is important to seek medical care immediately as these symptoms can indicate serious complications due to venom from the brown recluse spider.

How do I prevent being bitten by a brown recluse spider?

Since brown recluse spiders are generally shy, the most effective way to prevent being bitten is to reduce clutter around your house. If you have a basement or garage with boxes stacked in it, which can be a common place for brown recluses, then take time every day to remove any items that could provide shelter for the arachnid. You can also use glue traps to catch brown recluse spiders before they ever enter your house, where you will then be able to release the spider outside rather than kill it.

Other ways to prevent being bitten by a brown recluse spider include wearing gloves when outside and using your hands for gardening, moving firewood, piles of rocks etc., and wearing closed-toe shoes and pants when outside. The most common ways to prevent being bitten by a brown recluse spider are to carefully check your bedding and clothing before putting them on, keep shoes away from your bed at night, avoid wearing clothes that are tight or form-fitting to reduce the chance of a brown recluse spider crawling into them while you're sleeping and inspect any items such as furniture brought inside after being outdoors. If any clothes are picked up off the ground, remember to shake them before wearing them to make sure there are no spiders hidden inside.

Additional Statistics about brown recluse spider bites

Facts referenced across the web:

  • About 10% of BRS bites cause ulcers or blisters that damage your skin so badly that you need a doctor's care. (webmd.com)
  • 46 cases were considered likely BRS bites by both clinical and experimental laboratory criteria. Of the 23 patients with recorded pain scores at the time of the bite, 12 (52%) had pain; 11 (48%) had no pain. Of the 23 patients scored at 24 hours, 22 (96%) had pain. (jamanetwork.com)
  • If the area around the bite becomes more purple in color around 12 to 24 hours after the bite, skin death will likely occur. (medicalnewstoday.com)

Summary

The brown recluse spider is common in North America, particularly in the midwest and south. They are normally very shy, hence the recluse in their name, but will bite when feeling threatened or provoked. If you are bitten by a brown recluse, there will typically be a red bump that can be very painful and itchy and it can turn into a lesion. In severe cases, the bite can cause necrosis of the skin cells, fever, nausea, and vomiting. You should always seek medical attention when bitten by a brown recluse to ensure that you do not suffer from severe side effects. To prevent being bitten, we recommend cleaning any clutter around your house, wearing gloves and closed-toe shoes when outside doing yardwork. Should you have any more questions about brown recluse spider bites, please consult your healthcare provider.

References, Research and Sources:

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

academic.oup.com

ixbapi.healthwise.net

webmd.com

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