Spiders! Eeeeeck! There’s Less to Fear than You Think
By Alan Caruba
“If there is one genus—arachnids—of insect pests that people fear, it is spiders,” says Leonard Douglen, Executive Director of the New Jersey Pest Management Association. “With the exception of the Brown Recluse spider and the Black Widow spider, most do not pose a biting problem.”
A quick way to know whether you are dealing with a spider or some other insect is to know something about them. All spiders have two body segments and eight legs. If your insect doesn’t have two body segments and eight legs, you don’t have a spider.
Spiders also have two short appendages, one on each side of their face, that are called “pedipalps” or simply “palps.” They are basically modified legs that aid them in food manipulation, mating, and sensing their environment. They do not count as legs, but you will probably notice them while counting the real legs, if you are inclined to do so. Spiders will occasionally lose legs in battle, during mating, or during molting.
“Unlike other insects famed for biting humans such as yellow jackets, mosquitoes, and bed bugs, spiders generally do not bite humans,” says Douglen. “Spiders have no interest in sucking our blood or deterring us from removing their nests. They only bite in defense and that only rarely occurs.”
“In fact, most spiders couldn’t bite people even if they wanted to,” says Douglen. Of approximately 3,000 different spiders in the U.S., only a small number have fangs that are long enough and strong enough to break skin.”
There are, however, four spiders that pose a threat of biting. They are Recluse spiders, Black Widow spiders, Hobo spiders, and the Yellow Sac spider.
In New Jersey there are a variety of spiders common to the state. They include the Daddy Long Legs, the Black and Yellow Garden Spiders, the American House spider, the Brown Recluse and the Black Widow spiders. People most often encounter spiders if they have gardens and, with the exception of the Black Widow they do not bite. In a home or an apartment, anyplace dark is a likely habitat for the latter two spiders.
“Venom from the Brown Recluse will cause local tissue damage,” said Douglen, “and symptoms of a bite can include burning, pain, itching, and redness at the site which can develop within hours or days of being bitten. Bites usually display a deep blue or purple area, surrounded by a whitish ring and a larger red outer ring. A bite can cause headaches, body aches, a rash, fever and nausea or vomiting.”
Treatment should include washing the area well with soap and water, applying a cold or ice pack wrapped in a cloth, and especially for children, the application of an antibiotic lotion or cream.
The symptoms of a bite from a Black Widow spider include immediate pain, burning, swelling and redness at the site. Usually the double fang marks are visible. After being bitten, the victim can experience cramping pain and muscle rigidity in the stomach, chest, shoulders and back, accompanied by headache, dizziness, sweating, salivation, and tearing of the eyes. “The Black Widow bite is a neurotoxin,” says Douglen. “People can experience weakness, tremors and even paralysis, especially in the legs.” Treatment is comparable to that of the Brown Recluse bite “and the victim is advised to seek immediate emergency care for further treatment, as one may require muscle relaxants, pain relievers, and other medications.”
“Studies have shown that about eighty percent of spider bite diagnoses are wrong,” says Douglen. “It is common to misdiagnose insect bites because at least thirty different medical conditions can cause skin lesions.”
“In New Jersey, the most common biting insect these days are Bed Bugs,” says Douglen. “A person with multiple bites has not been bitten by a spider because they only bite once.”
“Homeowners should get regular inspections to determine whether there are any one of a variety of insect pests present,” says Douglen, “and this is particularly important with regard to termite and Carpenter Ant infestations.”