Home > Random Thoughts > Brown Recluse Therapuetics…

Brown Recluse Therapuetics…

Today was warm and beautiful outdoors.  I’ve never had a green thumb – in fact it’s generally what I’d consider brown.  But enticed by the fresh air and clear skies, I headed outdoors to work on my back yard.

Mainly, there was a lot of trimming and raking to be done.  I hear there are all sorts of trimming rules for the health of your bushes and trees, but I know none of these things.  However, I wish to entertain with a cook out, and to clean things up.  And I haven’t ventured out to maintain anything back there in months.  So I did it the slow way – trimmed around, stepped back to look, placed chairs, stepped back to look, trimmed some more, tried to reach here and there, until it looked ok.  I think.

I should have used gloves though.  My hands are very sore.  And the loppers we have are bent, so their work wasn’t the finest nor quickest, nor for that matter, painless.  Still, the back yard does look better.

As I uncovered stones and timbers while removing old leaves, various spiders scurried about.  And I was reminded of my childhood down at my father’s shop.  And the wars I fought against the brown recluse invasion there.  I don’t generally believe in killing spiders, save the dangerous ones.

It was years before my Dad realized I was telling him the truth about the poisonous spiders I worked around in the wood room.  I wasn’t just being a scared little girl after all.  And by then, of course, I’d learned to cope with my circumstances – by hunting them.  By knowing their habits and every move. And by catching them in jars in case someone would finally notice not only the markings, but the numbers.

I was the only one in the family who not only didn’t wear glasses, but had eyes that tested better than the norm.  Details were obvious to me in an instant from any distance.  Though perhaps sometimes a curse.  I could see things that others could not.  It is sad to me that today I should wear weak glasses while working on my projects, not because I can’t see them, but because my eyes do not adjust from close to far as quickly anymore. They tell me the cones are aging.  And I still test better than 20/20.  What a strange circumstance for me.

It’s my guess that the sheer numbers of recluses at the shop caused them to be less reclusive than “experts” claim them to be.  I wonder how many experts have worked in a building practically owned by a recluse “clan.”  Though that makes them sound friendlier to family than they really are.

I turned over a rock in my backyard.  Sure enough, there was the tunnel in the groove and the tell-tale hunched body with the sand-dollar shaped back and famous “fiddle” back shape.  When they are surprised like this, they hunch and hesitate like a cat before they spring or run.  As if to decide which choice to make.  But even so, the process is very, very quick.  Micro-seconds at best.  And in spite of their reclusive nature, when disturbed they have no fear. If you are in their territory, all bets are off.  They do not hold back.

For but an instant, memories flood back to me of flipping timbers outside the wood shop, hunting for the spiders and egg sacks I knew would be there.  Every week, killing every one, because their numbers were growing and the docile native wood spiders were nearly gone.  Recluses were taking over the place, killing off all the rest and no one believed me.  Then the memory washes over me.

Flipping a timber – you had to be quick  – and I was an expert by then.  You don’t flip a timber slowly when you know it’s the home of an average of 4-6 recluses each, that you can see on the outside.  And there were many timbers lined in front of Dad’s wood-shop and storage shed for parking.  Your movement must be quick and you barely touch the timber when you execute.

But this one time, one of them was quicker than lightning.  As if it knew exactly what I was doing and exactly what would happen.  Remember Arachnophobia?  The demon soldier spider predicting every move?  When I saw that comedy, I immediately identified with that detail.  The timber flipped and it was on me in the same instant.  Racing up my arm.  It was an old one – big and quick.  The old ones were the only ones who managed to survive my jars.  Put a bunch of brown recluses together in a jar and soon there is only one left alive.  The biggest one.  They are extremely resistant to all poisons, except their own.  I never touch them, even when dead.  And here was a healthy one with strong markings – racing up my bare arm.  The image has been frozen with me ever since.

As quickly as it was on, I swiped my hand down my arm and flung it into the grass away from me.  Danced back and then pounced and crushed it under my shoe.  It was some time before I stopped trembling.  And at the same time, it was empowering: escaping the brown recluse bite.

Today I eye the quite small recluse under my stone.  Not old like the big ones back home.  It hunches.  In the same second I crush it.  As easily today as a quarter of a century ago.

Categories: Random Thoughts
  1. March 4, 2010 at 12:00 am

    I was on edge of my seat reading this the whole time!! My neighbor was bitten by one, it caused a horrific wound. I didn’t know that they take over the habitat of wood spiders. Or that they can’t survive the poison of their own. Amazing that you were in that kind of a battle alone.

    • March 4, 2010 at 8:44 am

      Hey Vashti,

      Thanks for visiting! 😀 I’m working on story telling skills, so I’m glad the post held your interest! Like I said, the biggest ones survive the jar, so my consideration is that they are the most resistant as well during battle. Their bite is full of enzymes and proteins that begin to liquefy their prey. Recluses will take over the habitat of any spider if they like it and they will eat other spiders. When grandpa first built the shop, we had wood spiders – a docile (even though sometimes large) brown and tan striped “scaredy-cat” of the spider world. It’s just that a wood shop, full of stacks of wood that may or may not be used, is a perfect hideout for recluses. They love crevices, and they’ll make homes in nearly any kind of undisturbed seam where there’s a gap. They love the pockets in corrugated sheet metal too. To me the whole recluse name is really more about where they like to make nests. Something unusual about them is that they eat both alive and dead prey. And they are resistant to poisons that would be safe enough for humans to use around homes. So spraying not only doesn’t kill the strong ones, but simply provides them with a food supply they don’t have to hunt. Sticky traps and avoiding any development of “stagnant” clutter are the best way to deter. And oddly enough, their only real natural enemy is the common house spider who makes webs in the corners. Their near hairless legs get them trapped in sticky places quite easily. Once they have a perfect environment to set up home, they tend to colonize, though in no way does this mean they are friendly to each other. Look for the dirty webs with a tunnel embedded. They are not the only spider who do this, but they are one of the primary ones. The hobo spider is another variety, more recently understood to cause a similar bite, that also makes a similar style nest. In fact there are experts who believe that the recluse may be unfairly blamed for more bites than it’s guilty of in parts of the country where hobo spiders reside.

      Oddly enough, after all that time knowing what recluses are and working amongst them (even finding one in my bed with me on two different occassions), it wasn’t until about 4? years ago that I was finally bitten by one where I live now. Must have gotten into my clothes and I think it had to have been small. I was planning to write a follow-up article on that experience. It will sound strange, but I found the experience fascinating. You know that bulls-eye effect they always talk about with a spider bite? I never saw the spider, but I got to watch the bulls-eye develop and spread on my leg. I always thought from descriptions that the appearance was supposedly caused by swelling, like an itchy hive or something. That’s not the case. The bulls-eye effect of the “red ring” comes from the capillaries surrounding the bite actually dying. And it was interesting how the tiny bite affected my nervous system and caused pain in the knee joint. I learned a bit about treatment and the importance of the immune system response too. There is actually a brown-recluse first aid kit you can get that I swear by. I feel lucky, I only suffered a tiny scar and a “strawberry mark” from a dead capillary cluster. Luckily I noticed it early and immediately employed a poultice of meat tenderizer. The tenderizer can help disrupt the function of the spider’s injection. After that, I used my bite kit.


  1. March 1, 2012 at 8:45 am

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