Friday, January 1, 2016

A Reprise: The Dangers of Winter Spider Bites

I first wrote and posted this actual post on December 20, 2012. Since the weather in much of the US has been quite warm this Winter, and there have been floods which may move spider habitats, I thought this would be a good time to reprise this important post. 

    Happy New Year Everyone !

(Photo: Jim Stone).   This is a female black widow spider.

    I have written a number of posts which warn readers of the hazards of spiders.   Most of us don't expect to be bothered by them in Fall and Winter, even in the South, but then we would be wrong.
About eight years ago, while departing from the farm, while driving  a minivan, I received a little prick on the back of one of my legs. This turned out to be a brown recluse spider bite, and this was during Winter. Apparently, the spider had made it from the woodpile to the minivan where passive solar heating had made the interior warm enough for it to survive and crawl up my leg, under my slacks as I began to drive.  Since it didn't hurt much, and only intensely itched later, I underestimated the seriousness of this bite.  It was a few months later when I learned I had a serious hemolytic anemia from this bite, which had long since healed.
I eventually recovered, but my critical anemia took a long time to correct, and I did not have a normal energy level for a long time afterward.

This is a brown recluse spider.

                 Today I was remembering this, as I had a near miss.  I have been secretly hiding some gifts in the garage so that my husband and adult kids wouldn't find them.   Our detached garage is generally locked and quite secure.  When I get the chance, I sneak out there, and wrap and label the gifts, and then hide them somewhere else until  "Santa's Night Flight".  Despite the cold, I noticed some new webs as I quickly gathered the scissors, tape,. ribbon and rolls of wrap.   As I neared one of the boxes, I noted the largest female black widow spider I had ever seen.  In self defense, I brushed her off the box, and crushed her as quickly as I could.  As I did, I remembered the bite I had on my thumb as a child many years ago, and I remembered the terrible swollen tail Rosheen, the Jack Russell terrier had after being bitten by a black widow in her doghouse.  There are likely to be more of these in the garage, which is warmer than our  woods and woodpile nearby.
                So, even during Winter, as you navigate attics looking for Christmas decorations and wreaths, garages looking for gift hiding places, tool sheds for exterior extension cords,  and as you clean out cars of gifts newly bought, please be aware that although we might see fewer spiders in winter, that they are not impossible.   When packing away Christmas decorations, use plastic boxes which click shut and stay that way, and use freezer bags which zip shut inside those.  Wrapping fragile items in white tissue paper will also allow you to see any hazards before they could sting you.   Take care, even in gloves or boots.   Our Californian habit of shaking our shoes and gloves before putting them on, is wise, in any place.

This is the underside of a black widow spider. The hourglass is characteristic, but some simply have other red markings.

These are our prior posts regarding spiders and envenomation injuries: