Very few animals have such a feared reputation in America as the Brown Recluse spider. Their bite can be dangerous but a confirmed death has never been recorded and it has a limited range which does not include the Northeast U.S. or the Mid-Atlantic. But mistaken identity of these spiders even occurs in areas well outside their native range. In almost every case, the spider identified was not a Brown Recluse or the bite suffered was from another animal.
The Brown Recluse spider has a range limited to the Southeast and Midwest United States. Transient populations have been recorded in areas outside its native range from shipping transports but there has never been a recorded breeding population established outside its home area. One such population was recorded in South Carolina and another in California. The California population was directly linked to a household goods move from Missouri. The pest control company Orkin states on their website that "[p]resently, the known range of the brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa) extends from Nebraska to Ohio and across the south from Texas to Florida."
Brown Recluse spiders are very common in the states of Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. There have been confirmed reports of as many as 7-8 spiders collected from a family bedroom in one evening in Missouri and the family never suffered any bites from any of them. The spiders like dark areas so closets and boxes are a favorite hiding spot.
When humans and Brown Recluse spiders do come into close contact and the spider does bite, the bite is rarely severe but there are a few times when the bite will be something you never forget. 1% of bites from the Brown Recluse can cause very severe reactions that can take months to recover from and can even include skin grafts. The painful process involves necrotic skin and a scar that will be with the victim the rest of their life.
Most people know that the Brown Recluse spider is easily identifiable by the “violin” shaped pattern on its back yet many other spiders are often mistaken as one. The attached slideshow helps you identify what to look for the next time you run into a spider you believe may be the most feared spider in America.
There are several identification guides as well to help you determine what kind of spider you are looking at including a guide by the Department of Entomology at the University of California Riverside.