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Beware of the Brown Recluse

leah kirk

The venomous spider, known as brown recluse spiders, has found a new home in a place they haven’t often been found before. Sorry, Michigan, but it sounds like brown recluse spiders have found the Mitten State much more comfortable than experts originally thought. A bite from a brown recluse can have dramatically different effects on humans, ranging from mild irritation to flesh-eating necrosis, and even death.

According to the Detroit Free Press, a homeowner in Davison, Michigan, found a pair of spiders in his garage last month. The spiders turned out to be the sixth confirmed discovery of brown recluse in Michigan since 2011, said Michigan State University entomologist Howard Russell. He is especially intrigued by this discovery, simply because this species of spider isn’t supposed to hang around through Michigan’s cold winters. Originally, brown recluse were thought to be native in only Nebraska, southern Ohio, Texas, and states surrounding the Gulf of Mexico.

In this case, “it appears brown recluse spiders survived the winter of 2016-17 in an unheated garage,” Russell said. “Does this indicate transported populations, or is this evidence of range expansion? That’s the question, and I don’t know.”

Brown recluse live in the Appalachians as well as Arkansas and Missouri; two states where they’re very, very dense. Oklahoma, the western portions of Tennessee and Kentucky, the southern parts of Indiana and Illinois, and the northeastern parts of Texas round out the recluse’s range.

Though the spiders can travel around – maybe in luggage, or freight – it’s uncommon to find a brown recluse outside its native range. Still, reports of brown recluse bites from states outside the recluse range abound. A six years study of brown recluse bite records derived from three poison control centers in Florida found a total of 844 brown recluse bites were reported. But in 100 years of arachnological data, only 70 recluse spiders (not all of them brown recluses) have been found in the entire state.

A similar look at Georgia, a state on the margins of the recluse’s range, there was a spider study where suspected recluse specimens were submitted for identification. More than 1,000 spiders came in, but only 19 were brown recluses. In the state’s arachnological history — derived from searching through museum collections, historical records, websites, and storage buildings in parks — there were only about 100 verified brown recluse sightings, mostly in the northwest portion of the state. But a five-year dataset from the Georgia Poison Center contained 963 reports of brown recluse spider bites.