Brown Recluse Spiders
The brown recluse spider or violin spider, Loxosceles reclusa, is a well-known member of the family Sicariidae (formerly placed in a family “Loxoscelidae”).
Brown recluse spiders are usually between 6–20 mm (1/4 in and 3/4 in), but may grow larger. While typically light to medium brown, they range in color from cream-colored to dark brown or blackish gray. The cephalothorax and abdomen may not necessarily be the same color. These spiders usually have markings on the dorsal side of their cephalothorax, with a black line coming from it that looks like a violin with the neck of the violin pointing to the rear of the spider, resulting in the nicknames fiddleback spider, brown fiddler or violin spider.
Since the violin pattern is not diagnostic, and other spiders may have similar markings (such as cellar spiders and pirate spiders), for more assurance in identification it is imperative to examine the eyes. Most spiders have eight eyes; recluse spiders have six eyes arranged in pairs (dyads) with one median pair and two lateral pairs. Only a few other spiders have three pairs of eyes arranged in this way (e.g., scytodids). Recluses have no obvious coloration patterns on the abdomen or legs, and the legs lack spines. The abdomen is covered with fine short hairs that (viewed without magnification) give it the appearance of soft fur. The leg joints may appear to be a slightly lighter color.
Spiderlings hatch from eggs which are laid from May to July. Eggs are laid in a case of white silken sac. There are approximately 50 eggs in each egg sac. From the egg that is produced from the brown recluse female the spiderlings emerge in 1 month. It takes one year before a spiderling can be considered an adult. It takes a spider about eleven months to reach the adult stage from the time of hatching. Adult brown recluse spiders often live about one to two years. Each female produces several egg sacs over a period of two to three months.
The brown recluse spider is resistant to long periods without food. It can tolerate up to 6 months of extreme drought and scarcity of food.
A brown recluse’s stance on a flat surface is usually with all legs radially extended. When alarmed it may lower its body, withdraw the forward two legs straight rearward into a defensive position, withdraw the rearmost pair of legs into a position for lunging forward, and stand motionless with pedipalps raised. The pedipalps in mature specimens are dark, quite prominent, and are normally held horizontally forward. When threatened it usually flees, seemingly to avoid a conflict, and if detained may further avoid contact with quick horizontal rotating movements. The spider does not usually jump unless touched brusquely, and even then its avoidance movement is more of a horizontal lunge rather than a vaulting of itself entirely off the surface. When running the brown recluse does not appear to leave a silk line behind when, which at any rate might make it more easily tracked when it is being pursued. Movement at virtually any speed is an evenly paced gait with legs extended. When missing a leg or two it appears to favor this same gait, although (presumably when a leg has been injured) it may move and stand at rest with one leg slightly withdrawn. During travel it stops naturally and periodically when renewing its internal hydraulic blood pressure that, like most spiders, it requires to renew strength in the legs.
Recluse spiders build irregular webs that frequently include a shelter consisting of disorderly threads. The wild variety lives in the southern states ranging from central Texas to western Georgia, and the domestic variety lives in the lower reaches of the Midwest. They frequently build their webs in woodpiles and sheds, closets, garages, plenum, cellars and other places that are dry and generally undisturbed. When dwelling in human residences they seem to favor cardboard, possibly because it mimics the rotting tree bark which they inhabit naturally. Also they have been encountered in shoes, inside dressers, in bed sheets of infrequently used beds, in clothes stacked or piled or left lying on the floor, inside work gloves, behind baseboards and pictures, and near sources of warmth when ambient temperatures are lower than usual. Human-recluse contact often is when such isolated spaces are disturbed and the spider feels threatened. Unlike most web weavers they leave these lairs at night to hunt. Males move around more when hunting; females tend to remain nearer to their webs.
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