A little something to trouble your sleep at night: We see brown recluse spiders, or at least brown recluse spider parts, in most of the houses we inspect. Old houses or new, clean or dirtyit doesn’t really matter.
For those of you who are blissfully ignorant, brown recluse spiders are poisonous. If one bites you, the results range from an itchy red spot that disappears in a few days to ugly, painful death.
Y’see, when one of the little guys bites you, he injects you with a flesh-eating poison that can kill quite a bit of the surrounding tissue. If you were to be bitten in vital area such as the neck, near important nerves and arteries, the result would be the same as getting shot with a slow-moving bullet. It ain’t pretty. There’s nothing the doctors can do but keep the wound clean and take pictures for the medical journals.
Lucky for us, brown recluses usually get people on the foot or hand, where the damage can be ugly, but not lethal. They get us on the extremities because they hide in places like shoes and drawers that don’t get used much. (These spiders hide; they’re recluses, y’know.)
One of the problems with recognizing brown recluse spiders is that they’re nondescript. Adults are about as big around as a quarter (counting the legs), and they tend to walk on their tiptoes. Of course, they are brown. And if you look really close, you can see a perfect picture of a fiddle on the back of a brown recluse. That’s why they’re also called fiddleback spiders.
Lots of less troublesome spiders look about the same as a brown recluse, except for the fiddle. My Realtor buddy John used to be a spider hunter (gathering our little fiddleback buddies for research), and he tells me that under a microscope, you can even see the four strings on the fiddle. But I’m here to tell you: If you get close enough to see the fiddle, you’re too close. I don’t know if these spiders have any kind of vertical leap, but every time I ever got close enough to see the fiddle, I was scared that the spider might jump up and latch onto my eyeball and sink his fangs into my aqueous humor, which would transmit the poison up my optic nerve and directly into the hind parts of my brain.
When I see a possible brown recluse, I either leave the scene, spray the thing with long-distance hornet killer, or mash it to death with a broom.
Most of the time, we see ’em lurking around drainsshower drains, sink drains, basement floor drains. Once, when I checked out a Jacuzzi tub, two big ones dropped down out of the faucet when I turned the water on. I saw one dried-out sink drain that was leg-to-leg with spiders as far down as I could see. I gave this bunch the hot-water treatment.
We also see dried-out brown recluse husks in attics, basements, and crawl spaces. Lots of ’em. Sometimes dozens. I figure this means there are plenty of live ones around, just waiting for me to stick my hand in a box or something.
When I tore fake-brick asphalt siding off my old garage, fiddlebacks came charging out one after another. I must have popped 50 of ’em with my hammer, all the while hoping no venom would splash on me.
As if all this ubiquitousness weren’t spooky enough, the exterminator guys tell me these things are almost impossible to kill. Since they walk around on their tiptoes, they don’t pick up enough poison to hurt ’em. Loading up their habitat with insecticide just kills off the weak ones and makes the overall brown recluse population bigger and meaner. Some years ago, an instructor at Grassmere told me that brown recluse spiders might be mating with wolf spiders, which are about as big around as a closed fist. Jeez, I hope not. The resulting offspring would be a bad-ass bug that could jump out of your sock drawer, wrestle you to the floor, and then toy with you a little bit before it finished you off.
But, you know, there’s a certain peacefulness that comes from knowing these things are everywhere, and there’s precious little you can do about it. One less thing on the to-do list. Can’t kill all the spiders. Might as well chill.
Walter Jowers can be reached at Walter.Jowers@nashville.com.