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Brown Recluse Spider BROWN RECLUSE SPIDERS
Critter Files/Spiders/Brown Recluse Spiders
By Blake Newton
University of Kentucky Department of Entomology
Photo courtesy Jim Kalisch Department of Entomology
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
   
 
TAXONOMY

KINGDOM: Animalia | PHYLUM: Arthropoda | CLASS: Arachnida | ORDER: Araneae | FAMILY: Loxoscelidae (brown spiders) | GENUS and SPECIES: Loxosceles reclusa

 
Other Names: fiddle spiders, fiddle-back spiders, fiddlers, violin spiders, brown spiders
 

WHAT IS A BROWN RECLUSE?
LIFE CYCLE
ECOLOGY
PEST STATUS
COLLECTING
BROWN RECLUSE FACTS
MYTHS, LEGENDS, AND FOLKLORE

 
WHAT IS A BROWN RECLUSE SPIDER?

The Brown Recluse, Loxosceles reclusa, is the only member of the brown spider family (Loxoscelidae) that lives in Kentucky.  It is a tan, long-legged spider with a dark pattern on the cephalothorax that resembles a violin or a fiddle.  The brown recluse makes a web that appears messy and dense.  Brown recluses usually build their webs close to the ground or floor or against the side of a wall in underground or secluded locations.  All spiders in this family, including the brown recluse, have only 6 eyes.  Like all spiders, the brown recluse has 8 legs and 2 body parts (cephalothorax and abdomen).

 
Brown Recluse
Brown Recluse (R. Bessin, 2000)
Brown recluse spider, showing fiddle
Brown Recluse: roll your mouse over the image to highlight the "fiddle" or "violin" shape (R. Bessin, 2000)
SIZE: Body length of adult brown recluse about 1/2"
 
LIFE CYCLE

Simple metamorphosis: like all spiders, young brown spiders hatch from eggs and look like tiny adults.  They shed their skin as they grow.  Females can lay dozens of eggs at once, which she wraps in webbing and attaches to a surface for protection.

 
ECOLOGY
 

Brown recluse spiders prefer dark secluded areas.  They are common indoors, and can live all year long in homes, barns, sheds, warehouses, and greenhouses.  They are found in protected outdoor areas as well.  Brown recluses tend to hide during the day and hunt for insects (including crickets, cockroaches, and other common indoor insects), spiders, and other creatures at night.  Females can lay many eggs at once, and the eggs can hatch in a few weeks.

 
PEST STATUS

The brown recluse spider is one of the most feared animals in Kentucky.  Their venom is believed to be potent, and in some regions the spiders are very common in homes.  However, because brown recluses are so reclusive, encounters are very rare even when the spiders are present.  Also, new research suggests that many wounds not caused by spiders are commonly misdiagnosed as brown recluse bites.

Read more about the brown recluse spider and its bite in our ENTFact:
www.uky.edu/Agriculture/Entomology/entfacts/struct/ef631.htm

 
COLLECTING

Because of this spider's potentially dangerous bite, you should never try to pick up or collect a brown recluse.

 
BROWN RECLUSE FACTS

Brown recluses and black widow spiders are probably the two most notorious spiders in Kentucky, but they are not very closely related.  The black widow spider is in an entirely different family, the cobweb spiders (Theridiidae).

Other spider species are commonly mistaken for the brown recluse.   The yellow-sac-spider (Family Clubionidae), shown below, is commonly found indoors and resembles the brown recluse except that it is lighter in color and has no fiddle-shaped marking.  It has been reported in the past that a bite from a yellow-sac-spider may be similar to the bite of a brown recluse, but recent medical research suggests that the yellow sac spider is harmless.  Wolf spiders, cellar spiders, grass spiders, jumping spiders, cobweb spiders, and fishing spiders are also commonly mistaken for brown recluses. None of these spiders are believed to be dangerous.

 
Yellow Sac Spider
Yellow Sac Spider (R. Bessin, 2002)
 

Although the brown recluse is the only spider in the Loxoscelidae family that lives in Kentucky, there are other species that occur in the United States.  The "Chilean Recluse" resembles a large brown recluse.  It lives in the western United States.  The "Mediterranean Recluse" is similar in size to the brown recluse, and it is found in the extreme southern United States.  Like the brown recluse, these spiders are feared by many but the effects of their bites are not well understood.

Recent scientific research suggests that the brown recluse spider may prefer dead food instead of live food - most spiders eat live prey exclusively.  Read more about this research at: www.sciencenews.org/20031108/fob7.asp

 
MYTHS - LEGENDS - FOLKLORE

Spider researchers are learning more and more about the brown recluse.  Recent studies suggest that the brown recluse's bad reputation is more myth than fact.  Rick Vetter, a brown recluse expert from the University of California, maintains a website on this topic at:
http://spiders.ucr.edu/


Original document: 25 May 2004
Last updated: 4 Feb 2008

Close-up brown recluse photo courtesy Jim Kalisch, Department of Entomology, Univeristy of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Other photos courtesy R. Bessin and B. Newton, University of Kentucky
The Kentucky Critter Files are maintained by Blake Newton, Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky.
Contact: blaken@uky.edu

   
University of Kentucky Entomology/Kentucky Critter Files/Kentucky Spiders/Brown Recluse Spiders