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1) Do Brown Recluse spiders live in Oregon?
No! Brown Recluse spiders to NOT live in Oregon (unless you come to Lewis & Clark College...but here they are well contained). Loxosceles are generally restrained to the southern part of the US, but there are many Loxosceles reclusa (Brown Recluse--a particular species of Loxosceles) in the midwest and a few isolated populations of Loxosceles rufescens in various cities around the Country. Click here to see a recent and accurate map of their distribution in the United States.
2) Have you ever been bitten?
Nobody in the Binford lab has ever been bitten by a Loxosceles, and this includes those of us who handle them regularly and have spent weeks on end crawling around in caves looking for them. The truth is, these spiders are very reclusive (hence their common name) and timid. They are not out to bite anyone.
As Willis Gertsch, the late spider taxonomist who revised the entire collection of North and South American species of Loxosceles, so eloquently put it in one publication,
"The shy, lucifugous members of Loxosceles make every attempt to escape when they are surprised in their hidden habitats. I have picked up hundreds of specimens with my fingers without any seeming effort of the spiders to bite me. These spiders never search for man in order to suck his blood... Any spider bite is always pure accident, possible only under special circumstances. Some of these conditions are met when spiders live in close contact with man in his home or in his work areas. The loxoscelids crawl into beds and into clothing and become imprisoned in the folds of clothing of persons sleeping or dressing. On these occasions the spider's instinct to escape cannot be realized, and, if held too tightly, it sometimes responds by biting."
3) I found this spider...can you tell me what it is?
Sure! Bring it by the lab and we'd be happy to ID it for you and tell you what we know about it.
4) Is the spider I found in my house dangerous?
If you live in Portland, chances are it's not dangerous. We do have Yellow Sac and Hobo Spiders around here, but there is not good evidence yet that they are actually dangerous (good evidence means situations where a person saw the spider bite them, caught the spider, and had it identified by a specialist. This way if a bad reaction occurs you can have more confidence that it was actually caused by a spider bite). We do not have Black Widows in Portland, but they are found in Eastern Oregon and along the gorge. If you live elsewhere, go ahead and e-mail us and we'd be happy to give you our take on your particular situation.
5) OK, so Hobo Spiders and Yellow Sac Spiders are really not dangerous?
We're not totally sure. We don't know enough about them to make a claim like that. If you're interested in this topic, see this web site.
6) I heard that Daddy Longlegs are the most poisonous spiders in the world, but their fangs are too short to bite people. Is that true?
OK, let's think about this for a second...if their fangs are too short to bite people, how would we know that their venom harms us? The only way to know would be to milk their venom and inject it into a human. We can assure you that's never been done. This is a complicated issue to explain because the name "Daddy Longlegs" actually refers to two different arachnids. One is the spider family Pholcidae, which are spiders and therefore have venom, and also the Harvestmen, another order of arachnids that do not have venom. We have in fact heard of one instance of a Daddy Longlegs spider biting someone, he is not dead and did not suffer a gaping wound, so obviously that myth is wrong on two counts. If you are interested in this subject, see this link.
Do you have another question? Please e-mail us and we'd be happy to answer it!
Principle Investigator Greta Binford
0615 S.W. Palatine Hill Road, MSC 53
Portland, Oregon 97219