Earth Science Tidbit of the Day
I’m currently operating under the belief that during my 13th year on this wonderful planet of ours, I rolled into a nest of teeny, tiny, brown recluse spiders while wrestling with my little brother. Here they were, just hanging out near the refuge of the egg sack they so recently emerged from, when all of the sudden they’re overcome by a giant meatbag rolling around in the wood chips like an idiot. I’m telling you this, not to brag about my mindless teen-aged escapades, but to provide a bit of framework for what ought to be a nasty case of arachnophobia.
I am not, however, afraid of spiders. Those little buggers are fucking fascinating. They’re just victims of really bad press.
The spider I became a little too familiar with all those years ago, the brown recluse, is a perfect example of runaway rumor turned Fox News fact. When I tell my spider bite story, many listeners automatically envision a scene of bloodcurdling gore where my rotting flesh was eaten away while I watched on in excruciating pain. After all, everyone knows that brown recluse bites lead to mortifying necrosis and possible death.
In reality, most brown recluse bites result in nothing more ominous than some localized redness and minor swelling, and of the small percentage of bites that do lead to necrosis an even smaller percentage prove cause for concern. More importantly, the vast majority of reported brown recluse bites… aren’t. Their title isn’t honorary, these spiders are naturally reclusive and much more likely to run and hide than attack. When they do bite, it’s generally because some oaf’s fleshy bits squashed up against them, leaving the poor little arachnid no other choice. Brown recluse bodies are delicate and easily injured, much more so than aggressive species like the Brazilian Wandering Spider. It simply doesn’t make evolutionary sense for them to play offense.
I opened this article with a statement of belief, rather than fact, for a very good reason. One simply cannot positively identify a spider based solely on the wound left by its bite. Descriptions aren’t typically much of a help either, as “tiny brown spider” describes thousands of species. When bitten, the only way to accurately identify the species of spider that did the biting is to catch it and hand it over to an expert. In my case, I didn’t bring a jar full of tiny spiderlings to the doctor’s office for identification, only the puss lined holes that eventually dotted the left side of my rib cage and a vague description. Nearly three decades later, I still have the scars, but I’ve lost the fear. The more I study arachnids of all stripes, the more fascinated I become. Those dashing little eight-legged wonders are AMAZING… but I’ll save the details for future tidbits.
To learn more about the spider branch of the arachnid tree, visit The Encyclopedia of Life.