Itsy Bitsy Spiders, Crawling Up Waterspouts And Not Trying To Kill You

My perspective from working in emergency medicine is that spiders have a bad reputation. Just about every random skin infection is assumed to be a spider bite by the patients, but the actual incidence is quite low. 

And while it’s easy to understand why some people might *think* they’re getting bitten by spiders while they sleep, it’s really funny when an IV drug user tries to explain that the big infected abscess over their vein “must be from a spider.”

But, as I often do, I digress. 

Of the thousands of spider species, only a few have mouth parts and fangs strong enough to penetrate human skin, and most spider venom has little to no effect on mammals like us. Add to that the fact that most spiders are not aggressively hunting humans, despite what you may have learned in the Spider in the Attic, and you’ll see that your biggest “spider related” concern would probably be someone asking you to watch Madame Web.

So while the vast majority of spiders will not bite you, and most of the ones that will bite won’t likely be a concern, there ARE a few venomous arachnids in New England. 

I hadn’t really thought of even discussing spider bites yet, but then I came across this recent article talking about Maine’s fishing spider, which can apparently be found on frozen lakes and ponds.The article goes on to explain that the spiders ARE venomous, but that the venom can really only cause an allergic reaction. It goes on, in typical sensationalistic shock fashion to mention that a bite can transmit bacteria, which in turn can be dangerous. 

It makes for a fun article to get people talking, but the reality is that these fishing spiders are not listed along with the other arthropods that can pose significant risk to humans. 

However, in North America we do have widow spiders (both black and brown), recluse spiders and yellow sac spiders

Bites from Widow spiders, Latrodectus, both black and brown, can be painless or minimally painful at first, but can then lead to localized but spreading severe pain, sweating, significant abdominal muscle cramping and spasm, redness of the skin, tremors, weakness and may include seizures. 

False black widow spiders, Steatoda, also found worldwide, can cause less severe symptoms than true black widow spiders, but can still lead to pain, headaches, nausea and lethargy. 

Recluse spiders, Loxosceles, have a bite that’s painless initially, but within a few days can progress to significant pain with localized redness and skin changes—pale skin centrally with surrounding bruising, swelling and redness. Central necrosis can occur, but is rare. 

Recluse spider bites can be more serious, and I was able to find a couple of articles citing deaths from their bites (here and here and here), but in general, deaths are uncommon

Unlike these other species, who are typically shy, yes, reclusive even, Yellow Sac spiders (Cheiracanthiumcan be aggressive and bite humans when encountered. These bites are painful, so in these cases, the spider is usually seen when it sinks its fangs into you. The good news is that these bites can usually be treated like bee stings with localized reactions—clean the area, take some ibuprofen, an antihistamine if there’s itching, and symptoms usually go away in a few hours. 

From a trail user perspective, think about using caution around wood piles or rock piles if you’re exploring any old structures like sheds or barns. 

Medically important spiders, while distributed all across North America, are less likely to be seen in New England, and are not just lying in wait to walk their unnatural 8 legs all over you. So that light crawling feeling on the back of your neck is nothing to worry about…

And the joro spiders will be fine...

**Note** none of the spiders shown in my photos are dangerous spiders, just ones I've had the chance to take pictures of!

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