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Date of Issue: April 01, 2009


Creepy crawlies coming to a home like yours

If you see anything that looks like a bunch of little ping-pong balls and a spider lurking nearby, break out the bug spray. Islander Photo: Paul Roat

Beware! Giant flesh-eating spiders are living under your chair RIGHT NOW! They will bite you on the butt!

Despite the fact that we are in the April Fool’s Day period of the year, the above statement unfortunately isn’t — probably — all that far from the truth.

In what could well be considered a continuing effort to scare the bejeezus out of everyone, be you in, under, or on the water or even strolling through your yard or reclining on a lounge chair, Sandscript always seems to be talking about a creepy something out there with a bite to it ready to get you.

There are a batch (hatch?) of venomous spiders found in Florida. Black widow. Brown widow. Brown recluse, which are usually shy but tend to be anything but reclusive for those entering dark places or sitting atop them in bright daylight.

I was reading Florida mystery author Randy Wayne White’s latest book, “Dead Silence,” one sunny afternoon last week. What with all the tree pollen that’s falling these days, a brush on my arm didn’t seem all that uncommon until the telltale crawl started. I brushed off the spider, squished it, then looked closer and realized it weren’t no ordinary spider critter.

After I jumped out of the chair and flipped it over, low and behold were several big brown spiders with funny marks on them hovering around some big white egg sacks. After trying to drown them in insecticide and taking some pictures, they were drowned for sure with a hose.

Other patio chair, same fate for the arachnids hiding there. Grand total of deaths were at least a dozen.

I figured they were brown recluse spiders based on several reports we’ve had of unfortunate bug-human interactions. The egg-laying season is about right — spring — and there were funny marks on the bodies until they got squished to goo. But there are a lot of brown-colored spiders in the Sunshine State that match those characteristics.

They match the habitat, too. Unfortunately, all are venomous.

Brown recluse

Loxosceles reclusa bites several hundred people a year in Florida, according to University of Florida scientists.

Adults of both sexes are similar in appearance and size, from one-half to 1 inch in body length. “The carapace is pale yellow to reddish brown, with a dusky brown patch just in front of the median groove,” it is described, with markings that “appear in the form of a violin.”

OK on my critters so far.

There are distinctive patters of the recluse that differ it from a more common brown spider, or a brown widow, but forensic study of the slime on the patio was inconclusive.

Suffice to say that whatever was lurking inches from my butt was no friend of mine.

And, if bitten, the tale I would have told would have been far from White’s “Dead Silence.”

Oh, if indeed it was a brown recluse spider, UF biologists said “females were frequently found with more than one eggsac. In the laboratory, females made up to five eggsacs. Total eggs per female ranged from 31 to 300, total hatched young maximized at 158 for a single female; the largest number of young from one eggsac was 91; and percent emergence of young was 0 to 100.”

Here’s the good part of the recluse bite tale. Most bites to humans come when the critter is disturbed, generally by rolling over on it in bed.

Yeah, it likes to snuggle under the covers.

Reactions to a bite vary from “no noteworthy symptoms to severe necrosis or systemic effects,” according to the experts. Worst-case results are apparent in 12 to 24 hours because by “it is usually apparent if a Loxosceles wound is going to become necrotic because it turns purple in color; if the skin turns purple, it will then turn black as cells die. Eventually the necrotic core falls away, leaving a deep pit that gradually fills with scar tissue.”

Great. And antivenim “not commercially available,” they say, “was very successful when administered within 24 hours, but many times a victim does not seek treatment until after necrosis is well under way, after which the antivenin is less effective.”

Healing “can take weeks to months and may leave an unsightly scar, although scarring is minimal in most cases. Skin grafts may be required to complete healing in the worst cases, but should be considered a last resort.”

Jeez.

There have been three local folks who have had brown recluse spider bites that I’ve heard of over the years. They were wrecks for periods of time ranging from weeks to months.

What to do?

Obviously, look before you reach into a dark space to avoid a spider bite. Or a bite from any other nasty that may be lurking.

Gingerly peer under all your patio furniture. If you see a nest of any sort, scream and run away … no, seriously, grab some sort of bug spray that states its effectiveness to spiders and douse liberally. Don’t forget tables, barbecue grills, lawn ornaments, mailboxes, dog houses, bird houses, tree forts, sheds, lawn equipment covered by a tarp — oh, heck, just spray the world.

Sandscript factoid

Not all spiders are bad, and none are going to jump out to get you in the dark. Or the light.

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