NWFL's most venomous spider

Fiddler on the LooseTrue to its name, the brown recluse, or fiddleback spider, is not aggressive, but can leave quite a markBy Daniel Mutter

They creep around your house at night, seeking a warm meal to sink their fangs into. One bite from the coin-sized arachnid can result in painful, necrotizing wounds, essentially rotting your skin from the inside out. The culprit is known as the brown recluse spider, and it’s one of the most venomous in Northwest Florida.

The severity of a brown recluse bite varies from person to person. For many, the bite results in intense burning and pain. It usually starts as a small, swollen red spot with a distinguishing pair of fang puncture wounds. In most cases, the affected area will rot away, resulting in a deep lesion that often takes weeks to fully heal. Bites are not fatal in most cases, but young children and elderly individuals are at higher risk. Those who have been bitten should seek immediate medical attention; in some cases, hospitalization is required.

Despite the gruesome outcome of a brown recluse bite, they generally occur out of defense rather than aggression. As their name suggests, these spiders are reclusive and enjoy small dark spaces where they can be left undisturbed. When bites do occur, they are usually attributed to people putting on clothing or shoes that spiders have inhabited. Bites also occur when people are sleeping and they roll onto spiders in bed. If the spiders feel trapped or unsafe, they are more likely to bite.

“The brown recluse has on its back a very distinct, violin-shaped marking,” says James Strickland, vice president of Brock Lawn and Pest Control, servicing the Santa Rosa Beach area. “It looks almost identical to a fiddle.”

Brown recluses also have a distinguishing eye pattern, with two pairs of vertical eyes and a horizontal pair that sits in the middle. Most people don’t get a chance to look for these characteristics due to the quickness of a bite, which frequently results in misidentification. In fact, there is another culprit native to Northwest Florida that may be responsible for most of the area’s reported brown recluse bites.

“We have a very similar spider here called the hobo spider that is commonly mistaken for a brown recluse,” Strickland says. “There have been a number of recluses identified in the area, but generally they are brought in from drier places, such as Arizona and other areas up North.”

The bite symptoms from a hobo spider are almost identical to those of a brown recluse spider.

“They’re not as poisonous, and they don’t have as much venom as a brown recluse spider,” Strickland says. “But actually, they do have about the same type of bite. Even doctors have mistaken its bite for a brown recluse. It does cause the flesh to rot and causes a large hole.”

To avoid bites from these spiders, people must always be careful to inspect undisturbed areas in the house. Clothing left on the floor or shoes that sit in dark closets for long periods of time should be checked before being worn. Brown recluse spiders also are often found around the exterior of the home in mulch or pine straw. People should always take care when reaching into dark or undisturbed areas.

“Obviously, the intent, anytime you see any spider that you think may be a poisonous spider, would be to call a pest control company and have them come out and do a survey of your home to determine what the problem is,” Strickland says. “And I believe any of the pest control companies in the area would gladly come out and do a survey at no charge in order to tell you what it would take to eliminate the problem.”