The Invisible Florida Brown Recluse Spider
It’s happened again.
One of our customers was “bitten by a brown recluse spider.” Unfortunately, this happens several times a year.
This is a huge source of frustration for those of us in the pest control industry in east central Florida. We’re not frustrated because so many people are being bitten by the brown recluse spider, but because…they’re not.
The Invisible Spider
Brown recluse spiders do not live in Florida. They’re not here. Lights are on, nobody’s home.
It’s like claiming to be bitten by a Galapagos tortoise on the beach in Daytona—yes, technically I suppose that in some way, by some confluence of the rarest and most bizarre circumstances, it’s possible. But likely? Definitely not.
According to University of Florida’s Dr. Jennifer Gillet-Kaufman, “No breeding populations of any species of recluse spiders (Loxosceles Laeta, Loxosceles Reclusa, and Loxosceles Rufescens) has been found in any Florida county in a native habitat.”
Very rarely, the brown recluse is accidentally transported here from its natural habitat in a northern or midwestern state. Their relatively short life cycle (1-2 years) means they won’t last long, even if they found Florida to their liking.
The reality is there are so few of these spiders in Florida that it’s like hitting the lottery to even see one. Even if you did see one, it’s not going to bite you unless you provoke it—intentionally or by accident.
Check this out:
“A family of 4 in Lenexa, Kansas collected 2,055 brown recluse spiders in their house in 6 months. About 450 of these were large enough to cause envenomations; they saw brown recluses crawling all over the house, the walls, the carpet, in the sinks and bathtub, yet in 8 years of occupancy of that house (as of Sept 2004), no person or their multitude of pets has ever shown evidence of a bite.” (Source)
So, here’s a standing offer from Universal Pest Control to anyone in Volusia or Flagler County: if you are actually bitten by a brown recluse spider, in Florida, and have the pest (or an entomologist) to prove it, we’ll buy you a lottery ticket. Hey, if your luck is that wild, it might pay off!
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
So if it’s not a brown recluse spider bite, what’s causing our customers so much distress? The list is varied but contains several serious conditions that could become dangerous if left misdiagnosed for long. It includes:
- various insect bites
- bacterial infections, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
- viral infections including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- poison ivy or poison oak reactions
- fungal infections
Lyme disease is probably the most important one to watch out for, as it can present with the classic “bullseye” patterning characteristic of brown recluse spider bites. Caught in time, your doctor can treat Lyme disease with simple antibiotics. If not, it can progress into serious symptoms such as heart and central nervous system disorders.
If a lesion or rash develops on your skin, keep a close eye on it. If it develops into anything serious, consult a healthcare professional immediately. If your doctor suggests a spider as the cause, please kindly refer them to an article written by Rick Vetter, M.S. at the University of California Riverside: Causes of Necrotic Wounds other than Brown Recluse Spider Bites:
“In regard to diagnoses of “spider bites”, the medical community is overreliant on the brown recluse as the causative agent of these wounds in many portions of the United States…In a 6-year database for the 3 Florida poison control centers, 124 brown recluse spider bites from 31 counties were diagnosed by medical personnel in that state (this is only a small portion of the actual number of diagnoses made). In comparison, in 100 years of arachnological information totaling over 100,000 identified spiders, only 11 finds of recluse spiders have been found in 10 counties and only 2 of these finds were in homes.”
Still Convinced You’ve Been Bitten by a Brown Recluse Spider?
The first step to diagnosing a spider bite is to spot and collect the spider. If this is not possible, it is unlikely a spider caused the skin lesion. If the offending spider is collected, have it properly identified by an entomologist (or pest control pro, in a pinch) before attempting to treat the suspected bite.
Tempting as it may be, try not to rely solely on Internet pictures to identify the spider yourself. Treatments for spider bites are specific to each individual species, so proper identification is critical to effective care.
It is a surprise to most residents and healthcare workers in the Daytona Beach area to learn that the brown recluse spider doesn’t naturally exist here. Of course, we have plenty of other species—but most are not capable of inflicting life-threatening bites on humans. In fact, some of them even possess redeeming qualities! Imagine that.
If you live in eastern Volusia or Flagler counties and have spiders in your home you’d like treated, we are glad to help you. You can reach Universal Pest Control online at BugandTermiteControl.com or by calling 386-673-1557.
Todd Stebleton is the owner and operator of Universal Pest Control, a family-owned business for over 25 years in Ormond Beach, Florida. He and his wife Natalie are proud to have built a company focused on conducting business with honesty and integrity. The UPC team keeps customers first, protects the environment, and provides trustworthy, personal service.
Universal: Honest, Environmentally Friendly Pest Control