Dangerous Pests: The Brown Recluse in Michigan

Brown Recluse Spider close-up

 

Of all the pest questions we answer, maybe the most common is, “is that thing dangerous?” The less we know about the pests we’re looking at, the scarier they seem. Let’s demystify the brown recluse spider in Michigan and help you feel safer about the spiders in your neighborhood.

We’ll cover what brown recluse spiders look like, brown recluse size, and how to avoid spider bites in Michigan. These are the pests that can pose a legitimate danger to people, pets, and property. With a little knowledge and maybe some professional help, you can keep spiders out of your home and avoid nightmares about creepy crawlers.

What is A Brown Recluse Spider?

The brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa) is a venomous recluse spider native to the southeastern US.

Like most spiders, the brown recluse is considered very shy. They’ll go out of their way to avoid humans and would rather run away than act aggressively when confronted. Most brown recluses spend daytime hiding in dry, dark areas and hunt for food at night.

They build small, asymmetrical webs but don’t use these webs to hunt their prey. Instead, they hunt by lunging and using their venom to immobilize and kill it. Their webs are built out of sight and used as a retreat.

Brown recluse spiders are well-adapted to living indoors and will produce offspring in homes. Their eggs are off-white or tan colored and can be found in round or cone-shaped egg sacs. Each sac can contain up to 300 eggs. A good incentive for spider control measures!

Close up of a brown recluse spider

What Does A Brown Recluse Look Like?

Brown recluse spiders are uniformly tan to dark brown in color. Both the legs and torso lack any banding, spines, or mottling. All adult brown recluses have a distinctive dark “violin-shaped” mark on their backs which often prompts the nickname “violin” or “fiddleback” spider.

Unlike most spiders, brown recluses have six eyes instead of eight. The eyes are arranged in pairs – one in front and one on each side of their head. The spider’s legs are long, thin, and covered with fine hairs but not spikes.

Because of their size, brown recluse spider identification can be tricky. A pest control expert can help identify a brown recluse or any other spider species in your home.

How Big is A Brown Recluse Spider?

Brown recluse spiders measure around 1/4th to ½ inch (6 to 20 mm) long. That’s about the size of a quarter – not exactly the giant menace you may have pictured.

By comparison, an adult tarantula will grow to 4-6 inches in length. Roughly ten times brown recluse size.

Why Are Brown Recluse Spiders Dangerous?

The brown recluse is one of three North American spiders with significantly dangerous venom. Brown recluse bites are very, very uncommon, but when they happen, they can be extremely dangerous. Though 90% of bites heal quickly without any issues, 10% may lead to severe symptoms.

Brown recluse venom is necrotic, which means it can trigger cellular death whenClose up of a brown recluse bite injected into living tissue. This venom may inflict major tissue damage around the site of the bite, creating a large wound and scar.

Reactions to brown recluse bites are often delayed by 3 to 8 hours. The bite itself is painless. Hours after the bite, the victim may develop a blister or discolored lesion. The wound site will swell and become very painful. This process may be accompanied by vomiting, faintness, nausea, or cramping. Within 48 hours, necrosis may manifest. If that happens, the wound will turn purplish, then black in color. Eventually, the tissue may come away, creating a large wound. In this instance, seek professional medical help.

Again, it’s important to notjust how uncommon this is. Brown recluses very rarely bite humans, and even when they do those bites rarely develop into lesions.

Does Michigan Have Brown Recluse Spiders?

The brown recluse is native to the southeastern US. It’s not currently considered endemic to Michigan, and sightings here are quite rare.

As our climate changes, however, the brown recluse has been reported in southern Michigan more frequently. They are surprisingly hardy and can survive mild winters, especially if they have shelter. The brown recluse is most common in secluded, sheltered areas like rocky outcroppings, barns, forests, or wetlands.

Indoors, they’re most common in basements, attics, sheds, and other secluded locations. They may build webs in quiet corners, along awnings, or between boxes.

 

How Can I Avoid Spider Bites?

A doorway and stairs to a dark basementLuckily, spiders – especially the brown recluse – are shy. Most homes with brown recluses never report a bite. In most cases, a spider will run away vs become aggressive. If it does bite you, often it will be a “dry” bite where no venom is injected. The spider isn’t trying to kill you, it just wants you to go away.

The highest risk area for getting a spider bite is a crawl space or other restricted area where spiders are nesting. Your best prevention is to scope the area out before entering. Gloves, long sleeves and protective clothing can help.

Other areas to be aware of spiders: boxes, firewood stacks, laundry piles, shoes and other items that have been stored or untended for a long period of time. Spiders may have moved in and made these dark quiet areas their own.

What Kinds of Spiders Bite in Michigan?

Not many Michigan spiders have fangs capable of penetrating human skin. The two main spiders you have to worry about in Michigan are the brown recluse and the black widow. They are the only ones with a venom that is toxic enough to affect humans. Other biting spiders are the hobo spider and the wolf spider.

Every now and then there are anomalies in the animal kingdom that are difficult to explain like when a group of Mediterranean recluse spiders infested the University library at Ann Arbor.

Fast Solutions to Michigan Spider Problems

If you have questions about spiders where you live or are worried about how to be safe around spiders, give Griffin a call or contact us online. We’d be happy to address your concerns and prevent spider infestations in your home or business.

Dangerous Pests: The Brown Recluse in Michigan

Can That Bug Hurt Me?

Venomous Brown Recluse Spider

The first thing you probably think whenever you see a weird-looking bug is “can that thing hurt me?” That momentary feeling of fear never really goes away (take it from us). When you see an insect (or spider, or wasp, etc.), you’ll probably freak out for a second. That’s ok! But if you learn what you’re looking at, you can also stop freaking out a second later.

We want to help you stop freaking out (because isn’t that what pest control is for, in the end?). That’s why we’re categorizing the freakiest bugs (and spiders, and wasps…) according to how both how dangerous they are and how painful their bites or stings are. Hopefully after reading this, you won’t feel quite as scared by the whatever-it-is you see on your porch. Well… after a second, at least.

Spiders

There are two medically-significant spiders in Michigan: the northern black widow (Latrodectus variolus) and the brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa). These two spiders are venomous, and their bites are considered very dangerous. Northern black widow spiders are black with a prominent red, hourglass-shaped marking their abdomens. Brown recluse spiders are a uniform tan color with a darker, violin-shaped marking behind their heads. Northern black widows are native to Michigan and relatively common. Brown recluses are not.

Various other Michigan spider species may bite, but those bites are not serious and certainly not life-threatening. Black widow and brown recluse spiders are very rare, and even when they happen they are often not serious. These two spiders are both very shy by nature, and would always rather avoid conflict than lash out. If you see a northern black widow or brown recluse, keep your distance and remain calm. They will not hurt you unless they’re provoked.

The verdict:

Dangerous–YES, but it’s very unlikely.

Painful–YES, but, again, only if they bite you–which is very unlikely.

Fire  ants can be threatening because they have a stinger and occasionally use it on people

Ants

There are thousands of species of ants living in Michigan. Though some of Michigan’s ants (such as carpenter ants) are major nuisance pests, very few are dangerous. Even the flying ants that occasionally seem to swarm around structures aggressively won’t attack people. In fact, most ants lack the capability to attack humans, even if they wanted to (and they don’t). There are two ants that could potentially harm you if you encounter them: Fire ants and Velvet “ants.”

Fire ants are distributed in the southern US, but they are inconsistently reported in Michigan. These small, brown-red ants can be threatening because they have a stinger and occasionally use it on people. Fire ant stings contain a venom that may affect the nervous system or prompt an allergic reaction. Stings aren’t usually serious, but if one person is stung numerous times or has an intense allergic reaction they could be. Velvet ants aren’t actually an ant at all; they’re a species of wasp. Speaking of…

The verdict:

Dangerous–NO, except in very specific circumstances.

Painful–YES. A fire ant’s sting is about as painful as a common wasp’s.

Wasps

There are several species and subspecies of wasp and yellowjacket in Michigan. The most common wasps are the common paper wasp and european paper wasp. There are twelve species of yellow jacket in Michigan, including German yellow jackets, Eastern yellow jackets, and Baldfaced hornets. These wasps and hornets tend to resemble “classic” wasps as you’d recognize them. They have yellow-and-black striping, hard, almost metallic-looking bodies, and translucent wings. The bald faced hornet tends to have pale or white striping instead but otherwise looks similar.

Wasps are territorial and capable of delivering numerous painful stings, but these stings aren’t medically dangerous unless you’re allergic. In most cases, you shouldn’t be afraid of wasps, but you should remain aware of them. Wasps may also make nests near your property. Wasp nests are made of various plant debris stuck together and hung from awnings or rafters. Wasps may defend their nests rather aggressively. If you see a wasp’s nest near your home, do not approach it. Bee and wasp nest removal can be dangerous and should only be conducted by  professionals.

The verdict:

Dangerous–NO, unless you’re allergic.

Painful–YES, wasp stings can be very painful, especially if they sting you multiple times.

Ticks

Unfortunately, ticks are very common in Michigan, especially in rural or forested areas. Ticks are most common during the summer, but they’re active in the spring and fall, as well. The most common Michigan ticks are the American dog tick, Blacklegged tick, lone star tick, and brown dog tick. Ticks feed on blood and find hosts by climbing bushes and then latching onto passerby. They feed by attaching to people and sucking blood for several hours.

Tick bites don’t generally hurt, though they may itch. Unfortunately, however, ticks are still probably the most legitimately dangerous pest on this list. Ticks can host and transmit several serious diseases to humans. The Blacklegged tick is one of the primary transmitters of lyme disease in Michigan. These ticks may also transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and more. Ticks don’t transmit a disease unless they’re attached to a host for 24 hours or more. If you find a tick on your body, remove it immediately.

The verdict:

Dangerous–YES. Although tickborne diseases are rare in Michigan, they are quite serious.

Painful–NO. You might not even notice a tick bite, which is part of the problem.

We may not ever “cure” your fear of creepy-crawlies, but hopefully this provided some context. While there are dangerous pests in Michigan, there’s also plenty you can do to prevent them from hurting you. Now that you know what to look for, you know what to avoid and when to get help.
We’re happy to be that happy, should you ever need it. If you have a pest problem, dangerous or otherwise, give Griffin a call anytime. We’ll help you stop freaking out–it’s what we do.

What Are The Most Dangerous Pests in Michigan?

The most dangerous pests in Michigan

Unfortunately, Michigan is home to several pests that can be quite dangerous. Some, like the black widow spider, are dangerous because of their venom. Others, like the Blacklegged tick, are dangerous because of diseases they can transmit. No matter why these pests are dangerous, however, you’ll want to keep away from them.

Ironically, the best way to keep away from dangerous pests in Michigan is to learn a thing or two about them. If you can reliably identify Michigan’s biggest baddies, you can take important steps to stay safe from them. Here’s what you should know about Michigan’s four most dangerous pests:

black widow spider

Black Widow

The Northern black widow spider’s habitat ranges throughout the eastern and central US. Michigan’s trees and prey make it the ideal environment for the poisonous spider to thrive in. Northern black widows are inch-and-a-half long, black spiders with a red “hour glass” marking on the back of their abdomens. The spider is common around Michigan’s lower peninsula, especially in the Southwest.  

While it’s true that they are common in Michigan, widow bites are quite rare. Black widows are timid and only bite if their web is threatened. Widows build their webs anywhere they can catch prey. They’re most commonly found in dark, damp locations like old stumps, hollow logs, fence posts, sheds, crawlspaces, basements, and woodpiles. Symptoms of black widow bites appear after 30 to 60 minutes and include muscle spasms, chills, nausea, fever, sweating, aches and pain, and headaches. If you’re bitten by a black widow, seek medical help immediately.

brown recluse spider

Brown Recluse Spider

The brown recluse is a poisonous spider native to the Southeast US. Experts traditionally believed that Michigan winters keep brown recluses out. However, from 2011 to 2017, six populations of brown recluse spiders have been identified in Michigan. The most recent population in Davison, Genesee County, lived in an unheated, detached garage. The fact that they lived through the winter in an unheated environment may imply that they can establish themselves in Michigan permanently.   

Recluses are around 6 to 20 millimeters long and tan or dark brown. They have a dark, violin-shaped mark on their thorax, or the back upper torso. Brown recluses seek out warmth and dampness and are usually found in rotting wood or cardboard. Brown recluse bites can rarely cause potentially life-threatening necrosis, or flesh death. If you think you’ve spotted or been bitten by a brown recluse, let the experts know right away.

Blacklegged Tick

The Ixodes scapularis, aka the “blacklegged” or “deer” tick, is one of three hard ticks commonly found in Michigan. Blacklegged ticks are most common in Western Michigan, but you could find them in any grassy area. Blacklegged ticks are small brown ticks with distinctive black legs (hence their common name). Like all ticks, Blacklegged ticks hunt or “quest” by perching on plant life and clinging to passing prey. This tick species primarily feed on humans during summer months.

Blacklegged ticks are the primary transmitters of Lyme disease in the North-central US. Blacklegged ticks pick up the disease-causing Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria when they feed on deer. Then, when they feed on a human, they transmit the bacteria into that human’s bloodstream. Lyme disease causes fevers, headaches, fatigue, and an expanding rash called Erythema migrans. Avoid tick bites by applying repellent when walking outside and staying out of grassy areas. Remove any ticks that attach themselves to you right away.

Mosquitoes

You know what mosquitoes are. Everyone knows what mosquitoes are, especially here in Michigan. Yes, of course they’re annoying… but are they really dangerous? Unfortunately, mosquitoes are dangerous because they carry and transmit various diseases. Worldwide, mosquitoes are among the most important and deadly disease transmitters. In Michigan, some species of mosquito may spread the West Nile virus. Mosquitoes pick up the disease when they feed on birds. They spread it via blood contact when they feed on humans.

80% of people afflicted with the West Nile virus never show any symptoms. For about 19% of people, West Nile triggers fevers, headaches, vomiting, and a rash. In less than 1% of cases, West Nile also triggers encephalitis or meningitis. Both of these inflammatory disorders are very serious and could have permanent or fatal effects. The best way to avoid West Nile virus is to avoid mosquito stings. Always wear repellent when walking outside and avoid mosquito breeding environments.

 

Hopefully we haven’t made you afraid to live in your own state! While it’s true that we’ve got some dangerous pests up here, they’re all more afraid of you than you are of them. By learning to identify pests like these and staying out of their way, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

And, of course, if you do end up confronting dangerous pests in your home, you can give us a call anytime. Michigan’s big bads have nothing on us!