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Most everyone you meet has a pretty solid feeling when it comes to spiders. They either think they are pretty cool, or they are terrified of them. When you read articles with headlines that read, “The number of flesh-eating spider bites is on the rise in Arkansas,” it’s no wonder people have some level of fear. Let’s look a little closer at the facts and learn more about Arkansas spiders.
A spider is an arachnid in the class of arthropods. We can simplify it a bit and say that spiders have eight legs, fangs used to inject venom and spinnerets that extrude silk, so they can spin a web. The idea of all those legs and venom and getting caught in a web can be quite frightening. Arachnophobia (the extreme/irrational fear of spiders) is one of the world’s most common phobias. But should we be afraid?
Spiders are related to ticks and scorpions and are not in this world without purpose. Yes, you read that right. Spiders are important and not just to scare Little Miss Muffet. Spiders play a pretty important role in our ecosystem.
They are considered predators, and they mainly feed on other insects. Spiders are phenomenal at helping to control cockroaches, flies, moths, fleas and even the dreaded Arkansas mosquito. They also eat other spiders. They are essential to our farmers to control pests and do the same for your backyard garden. Without spiders, other insects would become a huge problem, and while a world without spiders sounds glorious to some, the consequence could be severe issues with insects and other pests.
If you want to sound knowledgeable when you talk about spiders (or snakes), make sure you use the term venomous rather than poisonous. Poison enters the body through ingestions, inhalation, or absorption. Venom is injected through a bite or sting, so venomous is the proper term. Although most spiders have venom, Arkansas is home to only two medically-significant venomous spiders that can pose a serious threat to humans.
Brown Recluse (Loxosceles reclusa) photo by Joe Sparks.
What to do if bitten:
Sometimes bites from a brown recluse can go unnoticed for several hours. The victim will begin to feel localized pain around a bite mark. The wound may swell, and a large, circular red area may appear. Carefully cleaning the wound and applying an ice pack can minimize the damage. Victims should seek medical attention as some bites can be particularly severe and may require hospitalization.
What to do if bitten:
Black widow spider bites can be serious and potentially life-threatening. The venom may cause some localized issues, but the primary concern is the toxin’s neurological effects. Cramping can occur throughout the body and nausea, fatigue and even coma are possible side effects. A victim of a black widow spider bite should see a physician as soon as possible.
The exact number of spider species in Arkansas is often a subject of debate. One study found evidence of 435 species in 35 families, while other sources indicate as far fewer. Regardless, spiders that do not pose a medically-significant threat to humans outnumber venomous spiders and are the ones you will most likely see. Here are a few of the most common ones found in the state:
Arkansas Chocolate Tarantula (Aphonopelma hentzi). Photo provided by Noah Kerry.
Found primarily in Arkansas’s hilly areas, tarantulas are often what spider nightmares are made of because of their large size and hairy bodies. The Arkansas Chocolate tarantula (also called the Texas Brown) is the only confirmed species in Arkansas, although several others have been spotted.
Carolina Wolf Spider (Hogna carolinesis) female carrying slings. Photo by Noah Kerry.
Wolf spiders are very common in Arkansas and can be frightening. Although they prefer outdoors, cooler weather can send them seeking shelter indoors. If you see a large spider zipping across your living room floor, it is likely a wolf spider. Fortunately, they look much scarier than they are and pose little threat to humans beyond their scare factor.
If you’ve happened upon a large spider building a web in your garden, it’s probably a Yellow Garden Spider. The large body of these spiders is impressive, as is the size and design of their webs. They are sometimes called writing spiders.
Commonly seen in grass and on plants, these spiders will jump about to attack their prey. They are daytime hunters, so you will likely spot them in your yard. Their primary prey includes several crop pests like boll weevils, cotton leafworm and mosquitoes. This spider is excellent to have around.
Black-footed yellow sac spider (Cheiracanthium inclusum). Photo by Andrey Zharkikh. CC by 2.o.
Sac spiders are common spiders that likely cause more bites than any other spiders. Their bites often cause a mild reaction, including itching, swelling and redness. A rash may also develop, which often leads to doctors misdiagnosing these as brown recluse bites. The itching and swelling usually clear in a few days, and the bite will go away within two weeks.
Known as Daddy Long Legs, which I recently learned are commonly called Grand Daddy Long Legs throughout Arkansas, are not true spiders. However, they do belong to the group of arachnids that also include ticks and scorpions along with spiders. Harvestmen have an oval body (with no separation) and do not produce silk or weave webs.
It is worth noting a common myth surrounding Daddy Long Legs. It has long been told that these arachnids are deadly but lack the ability to bite through human skin. Research shows that this is not entirely true and may stem from the fact that many harvestmen will prey on venomous spiders. Their fangs are relatively small but can produce a small bite. Their venom is not medically significant and doesn’t even appear to be necessary for survival as they primarily scavenge for their food.
Whether or not you are a fan of spiders, they play an essential role in controlling insects and other pests. If you wish to keep spiders at bay in your home, keeping a tidy home is the best way to do that. Once you ensure that you have good seals on your doors and windows, removing piles of books, boxes and bags of clothing will help reduce the number of spiders in your home. Since most spiders prefer dark areas, the best thing to do is eliminate the dark places.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Arthropod Museum provides insect identifications at no cost. Visit this site for more information.
Visit these Facebook groups for more fun and information:
Photos provided by Julie Kohl unless otherwise noted.
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