Just kidding. No recluse is loose at the Amy Spider Headquarters.
Being into spiders brings up a lot of interesting conversations with other people. Some who simply want to know why spiders, of all things and others who think it’s pretty cool. Many of the folks I’ve talked to have a brown recluse story which is either first hand, or they know someone who has claimed to have been bitten by a brown recluse.
Let’s start with a few interesting facts about spider bites in general:
ALL spiders except one family (Uloboridae, pronounced yoo-lo-BOR-i-dee) are venomous. Tarantulas are venomous, too, and there is no procedure to remove their venom for the pet trade. Having venom is how spiders roll and the purpose of the venom is to immobilize prey, not kill humans.
There is no sure way to tell if you’ve been bitten by a spider unless you actually see it biting you. There are a whole lot of other little critters capable of biting and stinging. Spiders are not hunting humans and they won’t chase you like a swarm of wasps. We are way too big to be considered prey so if you are bitten (and you actually see the spider) it is most likely because the spider was about to be squashed and biting was the last resort. Most spiders run away, curl up in to a little ball, or drop straight to the ground when disturbed. They don’t want anything to do with us…unless you have a nice, bright porch light lit on summer nights. In short, although capable, spiders rarely bite.
With that said, there are only 2 kinds of spiders considered to be actually dangerous to humans in the US: the recluse spiders and the widows. And guess what? Neither are native to Western PA (except for the rarely encountered Northern widow). We live in a harmless spider range! That little guy in the corner web who rebuilds every time after you vacuum? Harmless. That beefy, palm-sized spider you found in the garage? Harmless – as harmless as any other bug that could bite you.
Pittsburgh is not part of the recluse range. There is a chance that an isolated population could be established via transport from an area they ARE from. Our winters are too cold for recluse spiders to just take up residence in the woodpile in the yard, they would have to be inside so they don’t freeze.
Check out this journal paper by Vetter and Barger on people who DO live in their range.
Also, notice on the map there are other species of recluse that fall in the genus Loxosceles: devia, blanda, etc. Loxosceles reclusa is the brown recluse. There are 11 different kinds found in the US! Not all are shown on the map.
So, if you live in Western, PA and IF a recluse was introduced into the very house you live in and IF you got bit by one and IF you have a reaction to the venom (it varies) THEN you might start showing symptoms of a dermonecrotic lesion. According to Richard Vetter in his fabulous book, The Brown Recluse Spider (a MUST read if you are really worried or just downright curious), 90% of verified recluse bites are unremarkable to minor.
Don’t believe the hype, guys. Most of the stuff on the internet is unverified or worse, misdiagnosed.