Published on 02/13/03

Have you seen a brown recluse spider lately?

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

It's brown, armed and potentially dangerous, but very shy, preferring quiet, dark places. It also has eight legs. Have you seen it?

If you have seen a brown recluse spider in Georgia lately, University of Georgia entomologist Nancy Hinkle wants to know.

The accused

Brown recluse spider -- the very name makes many Georgians shudder and recall tales of close encounters and serious bites.

It seems that often in Georgia, Hinkle said, a strange, bite- like bump that appears out of nowhere is diagnosed, by a doctor or a grandmother, as a spider bite. Signs of spiders' bites often don't appear until several hours or days after a bite.

And much too often in Georgia, the brown recluse spider is accused of the dirty deed.

Hinkle came to the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences from the University of California 18 months ago. Since her arrival, she's heard several Georgians say they know somebody, or know somebody who knows somebody, who has seen or been seriously wounded by a recluse.

This seemed a bit curious to her. For the most part, the recluse isn't a Southerner. It's really a Midwesterner.

The dared

So Hinkle is on a quest to map the counties in Georgia that claim to have brown recluse spiders.

Why would a veterinary entomologist, who normally deals with ticks, fleas and the like, want to do this? Because somebody dared her.

She told a former colleague in California, who is a recluse expert, about the seemingly high incidence of recluse encounters in Georgia.

"He said they're very rare for Georgia and dared me to find a brown recluse spider here," she said.

But the research could help Georgia medical professionals, too, she said.

"One of the reasons for doing this study is to help the medical community rule out brown recluse bites from portions of the state that don't have the spiders," she said. A mark on the skin that looks like a spider bite could be something much more serious.

If a doctor has diagnosed you with a brown recluse bite, send Hinkle spiders from your house.

The hunters

But even if you haven't been bitten, you can send live spiders by placing a piece of crumpled paper towel in a small container and place the spider inside. Tape the container well.

If you use sticky traps in your home or business, this is a good way to send the spiders. Place each sticky trap in an individual plastic bag.

You can send dead spiders in mouthwash. That's right. "It preserves them as well as alcohol without the hazards inherent in shipping alcohol," she said.

You can also send dried spiders you find.

Don't forget to name the county or city and date of capture for your specimen.

And don't go out of your way to kill any spiders. "Squashed spiders are very hard to identify," she said.

This would be a good science project for students statewide, she said. Interested teachers can contact Hinkle at (706) 583- 8043.

The recluse is, of course, brownish. But it has a somewhat darker, violin-shaped design on the part that the legs attach to. It's not a big spider. With legs extended, it's only about the size of a U.S. quarter.

If you do have one, it'll be in the darkest, most undisturbed part of your house, Hinkle said.

(It was reported recently that 2,055 brown recluse spiders were captured in one year in one home in Kansas. The homeowners, never bitten, live happily with them.)

Georgia probably does have recluse spiders. Georgia's diverse landscape, from the mountains to the flatlands to the coast, houses 800 known species of spiders, she said.

Send the brown recluse spiders to N.C. Hinkle, Georgia Recluse ID Project, Department of Entomology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-2603.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.