Guest column: Scary discovery; Bite of brown recluse spider can be lethal.
By Kathy Brown Sutton
Special to the Salisbury Post
My daughter Clarice and I are visiting Faith, where I grew up. My family has deep roots in this town, and my grandfather, George Albert Brown, was one of the early founders. In fact, he was once mayor. He went a long way toward populating the town, since he fathered 13 children. My father, Roy, lives two blocks from Main Street and is struggling to regain his health after a bad fall. That is what prompted this visit.
I moved north two decades ago and now reside in Pittsburgh. It is my small-town upbringing that makes me yearn for the simplicity of summer pleasures found in the South. This includes going barefoot, exploring nature and waking to the sound of whippoorwills. Clarice identifies with the South and easily picks up the accent. She loves returning to this state and every visit proves unique.
One Sunday, we had just finished swimming in her Uncle Andrew’s pool and strolled across the street to visit Aunt Beth. I spread our beach towel out in the yard. My sister brought out beverages and sat down in her enormous porch rocker to sit a spell and converse.
My daughter asked me if an object she found burrowed in the caked brown dirt spotting the lawn was a spider. It was beautifully camouflaged, which led to a discussion about how well creatures can hide in nature for protection. I asked her if she knew what the term meant and she said “Of, course, Mother. I am 6, you know.”
We became mesmerized by this tiny object, which looked so foreign I told her it must be a baby alien. It was the strangest spider I had ever seen. The legs folded in on themselves and it was curled into the shape of a fist. It appeared to have a face consisting of eyes, a nose and a mouth. The body appeared to be soft and mushy.
My sister said it might be a brown recluse. She went on to describe this powerfully poisonous spider, which is said to eat human tissue and leave holes the size of craters in your body. A flesh-eating spider. Perhaps it is an alien.
I went back to my Cousin Brenda’s where I was staying and looked up a brown recluse on the computer. The first picture I pulled up showed that alien face I had recently witnessed staring back at me. I started to feel lucky that we sat beside this spider instead of on top of it. A bite can cause severe systemic symptoms which include organ damage, and occasionally even death; most fatalities are in children under 7 or those with a weaker-than-normal immune system.
A minority of brown recluse spider bites form a necrotizing ulcer that destroys soft tissue and may take months to heal, leaving deep scars. The damaged tissue will become gangrenous and eventually slough away. The initial bite frequently cannot be felt and there may be no pain, but over time the wound may grow to as large as 10 inches in extreme cases. Bites usually become painful and itchy within 2 to 8 hours; pain and other local effects worsen 12 to 36 hours after the bite with the necrosis developing over the next few days.
The name recluse means that it prefers to hide whenever possible in places that are undisturbed. It is most often found in barns, woodpiles or beneath anything lying on the ground. It’s also found in basements or garages behind boxes, in old clothing or inside papers or tires. The legs do not have joints. That is why it could fold into a ball and looked so strange to me. It is also unusual because it has six eyes. This formed the pattern that looked so much like a face to me.
They are usually non aggressive, and bites are usually sustained by rolling over in bed, putting on socks and shoes, or carrying boxes out of a dark basement.
This will be a trip to Faith that Clarice will always remember. She is now a bit scared of walking in the yard and always wears shoes but is excited to have experienced such a rare sight in nature.
I am glad to leave nature as we found it. I am sure it will burrow back in the hole it made in the yard and not harm anyone. Being non-aggressive by nature it is truly a wonder to behold. But observe with caution, if you ever get the chance, and try to leave it unharmed. It had to be put on this earth for a reason and must be relevant to our ecosystem.