The brown recluse spider is known to have a very poisonous bite. Although extremely rare, the sting causes a condition called loxoscelism . This is the only known cause of necrotizing arachnidism (death of spider tissue). The name comes from the genus Loxosceles , to which all hermit spiders belong .
But how do you know if a brown recluse really bit you? This is a very common question because the brown recluse is surrounded by a lot of anxiety and fear. Capturing the spider responsible for this will help you identify it, but don't put yourself in danger of another bite from it.
Many of your fears can be allayed with a little understanding of the brown recluse. For example, these spiders only live in certain parts of the United States and death from bites is very rare. Also, keep in mind that not all boils and necrotic (dead) tissue are caused by brown recluse bites or even spider bites .
Where do the brown hermits live?
Hermit spiders are called hermits because they don't like to be seen. These nocturnal creatures will not attack humans unless provoked. Most brown recluse bites are caused by a spider getting caught in a person's clothing.
With this knowledge, where you live is actually the first clue to whether or not a brown recluse has bitten you. This particular species is found only in the south-central United States .
In one study, researchers asked people to send them specimens of spiders, which they thought were brown recluses. Of the 1,773 arachnids shipped from 49 states, 158 different species have been identified. Of the 29 states where brown female recluses are not common, only two brown female recluses have been identified .
This study found that if you are bitten outside where brown recluse spiders are known to live, the chances of it coming from a brown recluse are slim to none. The injury is more likely due to a variety of other reasons, perhaps even a different species of spider that is less poisonous.
For example, if you are bitten in Northern California or Maine, there is almost no chance that it is from a brown recluse, unless you have recently returned from Mississippi.
You can exclude the brown recluse if you are not in areas where brown recluses are known to live.
Was it a brown hermit?
Assuming you're in brown recluse territory, it's best if you can see the spider that bit you. However, many people don't even realize when they've been bitten, so sightings are rare.
If you can catch a spider that bites you, that's even better. It is difficult to classify, and only an arachnologist (spider specialist) can identify a brown recluse for you. This is probably out of the reach of your healthcare professional as well, although you should still see one if the bite worsens.
While you and your healthcare professional may not be able to identify a brown recluse, there are several signs that you have a spider, at least from your family. If you can safely observe this, here is what to look for:
- The hermit has six eyes arranged in three pairs called dyads . One pair will be in front and the others on either side of the head. Most spiders have eight eyes.
- The fluffy belly (for the most part) will have fine hairs and a solid color.
- The legs are solid, light in color, without spines.
- The body (without legs) is no more than 3/8 inch long.
Brown recluses are also called fiddle spiders or fiddlers . These names refer to the violin-shaped marking on the spider's back. However, this is not always evident in brown hermits, it is found in other species as well. Look for other identifying information rather than relying on the violin.
The problem is, you probably didn't even feel the sting. In most cases, the bite is symptomatic a few hours or days later.
Symptoms of a brown recluse bite
Most brown recluse bites have no symptoms or are slightly swollen with a red bump. Some bites cause an abscess or a pimple. They can be completely indistinguishable from an ingrown hair or a skin infection like staph or strep.
An extensive review of spider bites notes that tissue death around the bite site can extend over several days. You may notice red skin near the center or boil, turning white and then blue as it spreads.
Some of the worst brown recluse bites can lead to necrotizing arachnidism, which looks like an open wound, often referred to by doctors as an ulcer. The term necrotizing arachnidism literally means tissue death from a spider bite.
Skin infections can lead to necrotic ulcers, which are similar to those caused by brown recluse bites. The difference is that necrotizing skin infections can be much more dangerous and treatment with antibiotics is possible, so it is very important that you consult your doctor.
There are very few confirmed deaths from loxoskelism. A 2017 study examined cases of loxocelism between 1995 and 2005. Of the 57 reported cases of moderate to severe loxocelism, only two have resulted in death. Both men, an old man and a girl, were healthy before the bite .
It should also be noted that the study identified 373 possible cases of loxocelism during this 20-year period. Most of them resulted in minor symptoms that disappeared within a few weeks.
Most brown recluse bites heal normally without any medical intervention or first aid. If you see this happening, or suspect that you have been bitten, it is recommended that you use a common first aid technique called RICE ( rest, ice, squeeze and lift ). Wrap a pressure bandage over the sting area, apply ice to it, and lift it up.
If the bite has turned into a boil or an ulcer , see your doctor. This is generally not an emergency, but you should see your doctor.
The doctor may take a swab from the boil and inoculate it to check for bacteria. This helps them know if antibiotics can cure it and helps determine the actual cause, whether it is a spider bite or not. Antibiotics don't work for brown recluse bites, but they can be used for bacterial infections.
If you have not seen or felt a spider bite, then it is really impossible to tell if it is a brown recluse bite. In this case, it is important to see your doctor about any boils or raised red areas that get worse, especially if it feels hot and hard.
Get the word of drug information
While you may be tempted to panic, rest assured that brown recluse bites are very rare. Follow RICE's first aid guidelines and keep an eye on the area you think is the site of the sting. If you notice anything unusual or if you have boils, see your doctor. With a little diligence, it should be fine.