Nancy Troyano looking up from a microscope

Ask the Bug Doc: Spider Bites

Dr. Nancy Troyano, Director of Technical Education and Training and Entomologist

Q: I have a bug bite that I can’t identify. Could it be a spider bite?

A: Poor, maligned spiders. They get blamed for a lot of bites that really aren’t their fault. The likelihood that you have a dangerous spider bite is relatively slim.

The truth of the matter is, ALL spiders have fangs, and all spiders have venom in their fangs. But, most don’t have venom that is toxic to us. And only some spiders actually bite. In fact, there is some very telling research that shows that the majority of conditions diagnosed as “spider bites” are actually not attributable to spiders.

There are only two species of spiders in North America of medical importance (a fancy way of saying their venom is toxic to most humans): the black widow spider and the brown recluse spider. Although black widow spiders are found throughout the U.S., they are most prominent in the Southern and Western states. Brown recluse spiders are only found in the Midwest and Southern U.S. states.

So, the likelihood that you have a dangerous spider bite is relatively slim. However, spider bites do happen, so you should always have a plan of action.

  • If you know you’ve been bitten by a spider, try to save the spider. It’s hard to do, but try not to crush it. This will help your doctor identify the species and determine whether or not the venom could be toxic. Take the specimen with you when you visit your doctor.
  • If you’re unsure if you were bitten by a spider, let your symptoms guide you. If the wound area seems to be growing, be unusually red, hot to the touch, or is accompanied by a fever and/or joint pain, contact your doctor immediately and let them know you think you’ve been bitten by a spider.

Black Widow Spider/ istockphoto

The best advice I can give? Take steps to avoid spider bites. Here are a few tips:

  • Wear gloves when working in areas that spiders may be present: sheds, garages, and basements, cabins that have been closed for some time, gardens, outdoor rock piles, etc.
  • Believe it or not, gardening gloves can be a favorite hiding spot for spiders, especially if you tend to store them in a garage or basement. Shake out gloves before putting them on.
  • Shoes are a favorite hangout of spiders. Shake out your shoes before putting them on, especially those that are kept outside or have been in the back of your closet for awhile.

Have a spider problem in your house? Contact Ehrlich!

Dr. Nancy Troyano

Nancy Troyano, Training Manager / Entomologist at Rentokil North America, is responsible for leading and supporting the development and training of Rentokil technicians throughout North America. Nancy works closely with Technical Field Trainers and Line-of-Business Managers to develop and implement a comprehensive training program for new and existing technicians. Nancy joined Rentokil after receiving her PhD from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in 2009. Follow Nancy on Google+

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