Know Your Spiders

  1. GPS1504
    Whether or not the world as we know it comes crashing down upon us, we will always have one thing to deal with: spiders. I like to think I have a pretty good relationship with spiders, although a lot of people cannot say the same. I can appreciate them for what they are and the purpose they serve, so my contract with them outlines that their living to serve that purpose depends on them not biting me. That works out for the most part, although there have been exceptions.

    Having spent a lot of time in dark, dusty barns has led me to encounter many spiders. When I lived in Louisiana, I grabbed a horse bridle that was hanging on a wall and immediately felt something bite me on the back of the neck. A brush of the hand revealed a spider, and I freaked out, throwing it down into the dirt and stomping on it before I realized what species it was. This could have ended badly; I should have made every effort to identify that spider before flinging it to its death. What if it were toxic? I was alone in that barn and lived alone at the time so who knows how long before someone else could have gotten me help had I needed it, or worse yet, found me dead. Dying from a spider bite may not be all that common, but it is possible.

    The CDC mentions three types of poisonous spiders in the United States:

    1. Black Widow Spiders are easily identified by a bright red hour glass on their abdomen. The venom contained in their bite is a neurotoxin and can be deadly as it tends to spread to throughout the body. They are generally found in the southern and western United States.

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    2. Brown Recluse Spiders are plain brown in appearance but can identified by a fiddle-shaped marking on their heads and the presence of only six eyes as opposed to the usual eight most spiders have. A bite from this spider is mildly painful initially but that quickly changes as the bite site begins to rot painfully. The necrotic tissue resulting from a Brown Recluse bite often requires medical care up to and including skin grafts. These spiders are found in the southeast as well as the mid-west.

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    3. Hobo Spiders live in the northwest and are builders of funnel-shaped webs. These webs are often located in dark places such as holes or stacks of firewood. Identification of a Hobo Spider can be done by looking for the presence of yellow markings on their abdomen and an absence of dark-colored bands on their legs. They are otherwise brown in color. If bitten, you may not initially notice the bite, but soon it will swell and form a wound that takes a considerable amount of time to heal.

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    Other spiders that will inflict a bite that is not fatal but can definitely make you ill are Mouse Spiders, Black House Spiders, Wolf Spiders, and Tarantulas. Some spiders also utilize urticating hairs which they disperse into the air when harassed. These hairs will irritate your eyes and skin upon contact.

    While there is a list of spiders in the United States that could cause harm to you, always take that list with a grain of salt. With the exotic pet trade raging on, spiders are being imported to take up residency in your neighbor's living room, where it will be placed in a shabbily closed terrarium and could easily escape. That is, until your neighbor grows tired of his new pet and turns it loose to become yet another invasive species wandering around the country and breeding. There is also the possibility of involuntary import, such as through bananas, plants, and furniture coming into port.

    A few years back, a new spider was discovered in Mississippi. It is known as a Tropical Brown Widow. I met my first one when picking up a bucket and letting my fingers slip under the bucket lip and into a dark crevice perfect for spider habitation. No one knew this spider existed in the United States until almost a decade ago. They hail from Africa and were an unexpected site in the U.S. yet I still managed to encounter one, so you may find yourself doing the same.

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    When you are out and about, be it in an urban or woodland environment, always remember that spiders share that turf. An undisturbed spider may well be your friend, but that same spider may not hesitate to turn into a foe if threatened. If bitten, seek medical care as needed, but you should also prepare for a day when medical care is not available and have treatment supplies on hand. By learning to identify different spiders as well as their bites, you will be giving yourself the best chance at survival should a spider try to ruin your day.

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