Kill it with fire! They are the fuel for endless moments of terror. They have their own phobia and have been the focus of countless horror movies. Yet these creatures are not some Hollywood-generated alien beasts. They are spiders.
To some, the fear of spiders is laughable and the source of endless ribbing. But spiders have a way of turning rational people into furniture-climbing, broom-swinging ninjas. It is time to take a closer look and see just how dangerous spiders really are and, more importantly, how to treat a spider bite.
There are over 3,000 species of spiders in the U.S., ranging from the almost invisible small jumping spider to the uncomfortably large Desert Tarantula.
While all but one family of spiders are venomous, only a few pose a threat to humans. The few that do pose a danger are serious business, though. In the U.S., our focus is three main spiders with a history of painful and sometimes deadly human interactions.
Black Widow Spider
First up is the black widow. Black widows are usually about ½ inch long and are identified by being a glossy black with a red or deep orange hourglass marking on the underside of their abdomen. These spiders stay primarily in closed, dark areas such as attics and crawl spaces.
The venom of the Black Widow is extremely dangerous and can range from very painful to lethal. Black widows inject neurotoxic venom designed to attack the nervous system.
Symptoms can include headache, nausea, and increased blood pressure. You are encouraged to seek medical attention if a bite is suspected.
The Brown Recluse Spider Bite
Our second arachnid is the brown recluse. Also known as the Violin Spider, it is light brown in color with a dark violin shape on the upper part of its body. Most are 1/4 to 1/2 inch in size. These spiders are most commonly found in the Midwest and Southern areas of the U.S. but have been noted in many states.
Like the black widow, these spiders choose dry, covered areas as their homes. Inside homes, they can be found in attics, closets, and even the rarely-used shoe. The brown recluse injects hemotoxic venom, which causes necrosis or destruction of the tissue around the bite area.
This may appear as a small blister, to begin with, but grow to a shocking size if left untreated. As with any venomous bite, it is always best to be cautious and seek medical attention. A small note on the recluse; the fangs of this spider are extremely small and actually require counter pressure to penetrate the skin.
Many people report having bites after putting on clothes that are rarely worn or those that have been left on the floor for some time. If you live in an area where the brown recluse is found, it is always best to shake out shoes and clothes before putting them on.
The Hobo Spider
Rounding out our top three is the Hobo spider. This spider embodies what terrifies so many people. They have earned a reputation for being aggressive and biting without provocation. This, combined with the fact that they can reach 2 inches in size, makes them unnerving.
These spiders are found throughout the Pacific Northwest. They build funnel-style webs to capture their prey and create them in any crack or crevice of closed spaces.
Unlike most spiders, the Hobo does not climb but is a speedy runner. Like the recluse, the Hobo injects hemotoxic venom. While not nearly as powerful as its cousin, the bite can result in a blister-type lesion.
Bites from a Hobo spider are rarely, if ever, lethal, yet pre-existing medical conditions may complicate issues. As always, seek medical attention.
First Aid: How To Treat a Spider Bite
If a spider bites you, it is essential to stay calm. If possible, try to identify the spider without endangering yourself or others. This can be something as simple as a detailed description. The color, size, and any noticeable markings will be helpful. Having a plan of action in place can minimize the danger of a bite. The Centers for Disease Control offer these suggestions for dealing with a spider bite.
- Treat the spider bite area with soap and water.
- Apply a cloth dampened with cold water or ice to the bite area to reduce swelling.
- Elevate the bite area if possible.
- Do not attempt to remove the venom.
- Immediately seek professional medical attention.
Once in a medical facility, the doctors will determine the severity of the bite and prescribe treatment. It can range from over-the-counter pain relievers to antibiotics and even injectable anti-venom. While in most cases, spider bites are merely painful, in some cases, they can be deadly. A man in Montana recently died of a spider bite complicated by his diabetes.
Pre-existing medical conditions can dramatically affect spider bites and should be taken into account when considering medical attention. While not an inexpensive option, ranging from $5000 to $50,000, it is best to be safe rather than sorry.
Living With Arachnids
Contrary to what many believe, spiders play an important role in our ecosystem. We must learn how to live with them. With rare exceptions, spiders are not aggressive, and most are of no danger to humans. Extreme situations have even been documented.
According to the Journal of Medical Entomology, there was a case where over 2000 brown recluse spiders were removed from an occupied home in Kansas. None of the inhabitants were ever bitten. While an extreme case, it is a sample of the fact that coexistence is possible. Some good guidelines are provided once again by the CDC.
- Inspect or shake out clothing, shoes, towels, or equipment before use.
- Wear protective clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, hat, gloves, and boots when handling stacked or undisturbed materials.
- Minimize the empty spaces between stacked materials.
- Remove and reduce debris and rubble from around the outdoor work areas.
- Trim or eliminate tall grasses from around outdoor work areas.
- Store apparel and outdoor equipment in tightly closed plastic bags.
- Keep your tetanus boosters up-to-date (every ten years). Spider bites can become infected with tetanus spores.
We live in a world full of things that can potentially be dangerous. Spiders are just one of them. As with any potentially dangerous creature, it is always best to keep your distance and not tempt fate. This is the rational course of action, yet spiders have a way of pushing buttons on people.
By simply appearing, they can turn calm professionals into screaming shoe throwers. If this is your world, we suggest you aim well and avoid accidentally hitting friends or co-workers.
This content was originally posted by Skillset Mag in December 2022.