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 beast, they are spiders. It is time to take a closer look and see just how dangerous spiders really are.
There are over 3,000 different 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 very small few pose a threat to humans. However, the few that do pose a danger are serious threats.
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In the U.S., our focus turns to three main spiders that have a history of painful and sometimes deadly interactions with humans. First up is the black widow. Black widows are usually about 0.5 inches long and are identified by their glossy black coloring and 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 its effect ranges from very painful to lethal. Black widows inject neurotoxic venom that is designed to attack the nervous system. Symptoms can include headache, nausea and increased blood pressure. If a bite is suspected, you are encouraged to seek medical attention immediately.
Our second arachnid is the brown recluse. Also known as the violin or fiddleback spider, it is light brown in color with a dark violin shape on the upper part of its body. Most are 0.25 to 0.5 inches in size. These spiders are most commonly found in the Midwest and Southern areas of the U.S., but they have been noted in many states and are considered to be the most deadly spider in America. 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 the destruction of the tissue around the bite area. A brown recluse bite may appear as a small blister to begin with, but will grow to shocking size if left untreated. As with any venomous bite, it is always better to err on the side of caution and seek medical attention. A small note on the recluse: The fangs of this spider are extremely small and actually require counter pressure in order to penetrate the skin. Many people report experiencing bites after putting on rarely worn clothes 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 prior to putting them on.
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 the cracks or crevices of closed spaces. Unlike most spiders, the hobo does not climb but is a very fast 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. Rarely if ever are bites from a hobo spider lethal, yet pre-existing medical conditions may complicate issues. As always, seek medical attention.
In the event you are bitten by a spider, it is important to stay calm. If possible and without endangering yourself or others, try to identify the spider. This can be something as simple as a detailed description. The color, size and any noticeable markings will be helpful. By having a plan of action in place, you can minimize the danger of a bite.
The Centers for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) offer these suggestions for dealing with a spider bite. Wash the bite area with soap and water. Apply a cloth dampened with cold water or filled with ice to the bite area to reduce swelling. Elevate bite area, if possible. Do not attempt to remove 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, especially in children. Last year, a five-year-old boy in Alabama and a 10-year-old boy in Montana died after being bitten by brown recluse spiders. Pre-existing medical conditions can have a dramatic effect on spider bites and should be taken into account when considering medical attention. A man in Montana recently lost his leg due to a spider bite complicated by his diabetes.
Medical care for spider bites is not an inexpensive option. Care, in a variety of forms, can cost thousands upon thousands of dollars, so it is best to take precautions ahead of time to avoid being bitten in the first place.
Survive The Threat
Contrary to what many believe, spiders play an important role in our ecosystem. We simply must learn how to live with them. With rare exception, spiders are not aggressive and most are of no danger to humans. However, extreme situations have even been documented. According to the Journal of Medical Entomology, there was a case where over 2,000 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 on how to do so safely are provided once again by the CDC.
•Inspect or shake out any clothing, shoes or equipment before use.
•Wear protective clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt and 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 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 10 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 article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.