Spiders: Nature’s (Scary) Pest Control

By Cole Purvis
Close up of red and yellow spider in web

Fall is here and Halloween is soon approaching. Along with it comes spooky tales of ghouls, ghosts, witches and spiders. Yes, those eight-legged creepy crawlies found in the corners of our rooms to sprawling webs in the outdoors. Spiders have been seemingly always associated with emotions of fear and anxiety. However, they are not leaving our lives anytime soon, so it is essential to understand the dangers they present, the good they do and how we can coexist.

The good they do

Spiders, above all else, can be seen as nature’s exterminators. Their brilliantly designed webs and adept predatory skills allow them to control insect populations like mosquitoes, flies and cockroaches. This, in turn, protects our households, lawns and crops from pests that can spread disease, destroy agriculture and prove to be an overall nuisance. In fact, spiders are so important to the balance of our ecosystem and the protection of our crops that Norman Platnick, who studies arachnids at the American Museum of Natural History, declared, “If spiders disappeared, we would face famine.”

The not so good

Like many other bug-like creatures, spiders are known to deliver a bite when threatened. In Alachua County, there are a variety of spiders that are known to bite people, but there are only two species with venom that is poisonous to humans: the brown recluse and the southern black widow. Fortunately, each of these arachnids are easily identifiable via unique physical characteristics. The brown recluse typically ranges from the size of a penny to a quarter and is notably distinguishable by dark markings on its back side that resemble the silhouette of a violin. The black widow spider is notorious for its shiny black exterior that encompasses a bright red hourglass shape on its underside.

Once bitten…

The overwhelming majority of nonpoisonous spider bites incite the same symptoms as a common bug bite. According to the Mayo Clinic, the victim of a spider bite is likely to experience a red, inflamed and often itchy or painful bump on the skin, not unlike a common mosquito bite. These bites are not considered dangerous and do not require medical attention.

Local harmful spiders to avoid

  1. Southern black widow spider
  2. Brown recluse spider

If you ever find yourself bitten by a black widow (black with red markings), you will likely experience pain and swelling that can spread to your abdomen, back and chest. Abdominal cramping is also a common side effect. The pain in the abdomen can be severe enough that bite victims have confused it for a ruptured appendix. Bitten individuals have also experienced symptoms like that of a severe illness, including nausea, vomiting, tremors and sweating. These effects can last one to three days.

The brown recluse’s bite (violin figure on its back) packs just as much of a punch as the black widow’s. The afflicted area of a recluse bite experiences increasing pain the proceeding eight hours after the initial bite. The brown recluse’s venom is also known to cause fevers, chills and body aches. Furthermore, the recluse’s bite causes tissue damage, which results in the bite area turning a dark blue or even into an open sore with dying skin around it.

If you suspect that you have been bitten by either of these spiders or are experiencing any of these side effects, seek medical help as soon as possible before the damage lingers any further.

Staying alert

Spiders typically bite in self-defense when humans accidentally threaten them. It is typical for spiders to seek out secluded crawlspaces where we would otherwise not suspect them to be. Some common places you might find them include sheds, cluttered attics, behind shelves or dressers and in unused gardening equipment. Being aware of these, and many other spider hot spots, is essential to avoiding any unwanted arachnid encounters. If you see one of these eight-legged creatures in your home, it’s recommended to place them outside, if possible. This helps keep the local ecosystem in balance. Remember, the presence of spiders deters an array of pests we would rather not see instead.


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