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Avoiding brown recluse bites

Dear Editor:

It was great of Dr. James Solomon to take the time to educate everyone about the brown recluse problem. I was dismayed to hear at the meeting that several people in the area have already been bitten with the most seeming to happen in bed. I’ve done a lot of research too since my father was bitten on the back when he was sleeping, and would like to share what I’ve learned with those who weren’t able to attend. Bites can have severe consequences, and since most houses have them in the attics and crawlspaces except for new construction, everyone with a concern should take precautions.

Apparently the spider/insect explosion we are experiencing is due to the lack of a normal winter. First familiarize yourself with what the brown recluse looks like - small elongated bodies and very long skinny legs. They range in color from tan when they are young to dark brown, black or grayish as an adult. To find out if you have any in your home, buy up a good supply of the very inexpensive sticky traps (glue boards) and place them all over your house in dark corners, behind furniture and near doorways. If after a couple of weeks they are still empty, you are most likely OK. If you find one or more fitting this description with a black fiddle shape on the head, it’s a brown recluse and you need to take other measures. Most of what is caught in a trap will be males, as the females look for a place to lay eggs and stay hidden and can live 6 months with no food or water, so it takes extra effort to find them. Typical foggers don’t work, they just kill other bugs for them to feed on as I found out when I paid to have an outbuilding treated a few years ago.

They love cardboard as it’s close to their natural habitat of loose tree bark, so switch to plastic tubs or bins with tight-fitting lids, or encase the cardboard box in plastic like a clear trash bag. Put shoes in plastic boxes or be sure and shake them vigorously before putting your feet in them, even if it hasn’t been long since you had them on. They can hide inside clothes, so shake every garment before putting it on, and turn it inside out. Shake out a wet towel that’s been dropped to the bathroom floor when you pick it up - they mostly roam at night looking for food or water but also move about in the daytime and can get in something in a split second. Shake out a clean towel before using it, check the sheets on your bed before lying down.

Heat/air duct work is one of the favorite hiding places for brown recluses. You can wrap the floor registers with screen wire mesh from the hardware store to prevent them from going in. Get rid of as much clutter as possible as it provides hiding places. Do a spring cleaning by emptying closets and cabinets and inspecting for molts (dry tan spider-shaped skeletons) that they shed as they grow, and also any small thin cobwebby coating on anything showing they have been there. They will make webs on anything - wood, plastic, even metal. Get rid of dust ruffles or bed skirts touching the floor that they can climb up, and put a glue board under each corner of the bed. Turn over night stands, end tables and chairs to inspect the underside. Spray the undersides of everything with a house-safe spray as a precaution - it won’t kill them but makes it a less desirable place for them to set up housekeeping. Egg sacs are small white puffballs about 1/3” in diameter, and there will usually be a cluster of them in one spot of flat web. Females can lay three or more eggs in a season; 50 or more babies can come from one egg sac. She will guard the egg sac until they all hatch. Wear gloves and long sleeves if cleaning out an area that has been undisturbed for some time.

Brown recluses can enter the house through the tiniest crack or crevice, so keep debris away from the foundation as a breeding place, caulk and seal every possible opening including around doors and windows, and spray the perimeter of the house per Dr. Solomon’s advice, paying special attention to doorways that might not have an airtight seal.

After treating my dad’s bite and hearing first-hand bite stories at the meeting, I think everyone should be more aware of the potential danger since their increase in numbers is a fact, and take precautions to avoid being a victim.

Alma Wallace

Clinton

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