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Things That Bite in the Night: Brown recluse and hobo spiders are getting a bum rap

The real bad "guy" (but really a "gal"), the infamous Brown Recluse. Spiders in Central Oregon are in a heap of trouble, and so are



The real bad "guy" (but really a "gal"), the infamous Brown Recluse. Spiders in Central Oregon are in a heap of trouble, and so are you. I say that because of a recent article in The Bulletin regarding a woman and her son who allegedly were bitten by so-called hobo spiders in their rental home in Terrebonne.

It is time for the medical community and those who suffer from arachnophobia and other arthropod-tainted fears to get their act in shape.

I've lived in Central Oregon for over 50 years in homes filled with just about every species of "house spider" there is, and have never been "bitten." My children have been exposed to them from the time they were born, and they have never been bitten, chased or otherwise harmed by a spider, and neither have my neighbors or my neighbors' kids.

Thousands upon thousands of people are living here and never experience an alleged "spider bite." So let's get off it! Let us find out what those alleged "bites" really are and what is causing them.

The illustration above is the real thing. That is a female brown recluse spider, known in the scientific community as Loxosceles reclusa. That spider's venom can sometimes do a lot of damage to anyone bitten, and the venom (not "poison") can sometimes be fatal to a child.


In addition, they are not even remotely related to the feared-for-no-reason, much-maligned, so-called hobo spider, which in reality is akin to our very common harmless grass spider.

Most brown recluse bites are minor, with no necrosis (accidental death of cells and living tissue - which can also be caused by infection from excessive scratching of a flea bite). However, a small number of reclusa bites produce severe dermonecrotic lesions and, sometimes, severe systemic symptoms, including organ damage. The bite may also produce a systemic condition with occasional fatalities in children under seven or those with a weaker than normal immune system.

This gets us to an e-mail floating around showing extreme necrosis to a victim's thumb. I received one from my brother in LaGrande, and from the look of the e-mail trail it has been circulating all over Oregon.

Over-diagnosis of brown recluse (and other so-called spider bites in general) is a nationwide problem.

In 1990, as many as 940 South Carolina physicians reported 478 brown recluse bites. In 2000 in Florida, 95 brown recluse bites were reported from the 21 counties under the jurisdiction of the Tampa Poison Control Center. Yet arachnologists (spider experts) who have worked for years in these regions and collected thousands of spiders never found recluses, and homeowners have yet to submit a local brown recluse to them for verification.

Moreover, there is not one piece of solid scientific evidence that hobo spiders in Oregon or elsewhere are responsible for necrosis and organic problems that inflict people. Even the infamous black widow, a spider that can inflict serious damage to humans, is often blamed and misdiagnosed.

Dr. Rick Vetter, who has carried out more research with brown recluse and other so-called "dangerous" spiders than anyone else in the US of A, published work on the brown recluse which I will condense for your pleasure.

Vetter and Diane Barger reported their findings in a paper published in the November 2002 issue of the Journal of Medical Entomology. Barger collected 2,055 brown recluse spiders from June to November 2001 in her 19th-century-built home in Lenexa, KS, and shipped them to Vetter for recluse verification.

He had this to say:

"If a family like the Bargers could live in a home with thousands of potentially venomous spiders and not be bitten, how many thousands and millions of brown recluses would have to live in South Carolina, Florida and California for [all those] bite diagnoses to be correct?"

I don't have any room left to continue this, but if you tune in next week, I will try to convince you that other things that bite in the night should be looked at more carefully than spiders as the cause of damage to your sweet little body.

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