Insect Ethics Part I: Arachnids

Brown Recluse SpiderCuatro was the biggest Brown Recluse spider I’d caught. He was lucky; I let him go after five days of captivity in the pickle jar. Uno lived a month and the longer he survived, the harder it was for me to watch him try to climb up the slick glass sides of the jar. I had no qualms killing Dos and Tres and dozens of their relatives, but Cuatro—he was set free by the compost pile. I figure it took him about a day to crawl back to the house.

I posted pictures of Uno and Cuatro on Facebook and other social media sites. The spiders  were shown to family members, friends, neighbors and strangers in an ongoing educational effort. Brown Recluses are also called Fiddleback or Violin Spiders and depending upon the resource, they’re considered one of the top three, five or seven most dangerous spiders in the world. Most people wouldn’t recognize the light-colored, spindly-legged, three-eyed spider with a violin shape on its small, cephalothorax body section if they saw one.

Last year I found Tres trapped in the bathtub and Cuatro on the stairway wall. These normally fast spiders hunt at night, running their prey (other insects) down like wolves. Millions of people unknowingly co-exist with Brown Recluses, which is why the spiders are considered “synanthrophic”, meaning they have a close relationship with humans, mostly because artificial lights attract they’re food. Recluse-friendly homes are found in states indigenous to their habitat. These states include: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

One of my goals is to decrease fear of Brown Recluse Spiders. I abused my power once when I took the cap off the pickle jar with Dos inside. I held the open jar by R.J.’s face and when he quickly moved away, I said, “I promise they can’t climb up smooth surfaces.” (They can’t.) I encourage anyone who suffers from Arachnophobia, jumps on a couch when they see an ant or kills every insect they find to continue reading. Also keep reading if you watch Toddlers & Tiaras because that show is scarier than ten Brown Recluse Spiders.

     Rick Vetter, internationally recognized spider expert from the University of California Riverside Department of Entomology, says Brown Recluses bites are misdiagnosed for conditions that include diabetic ulcers, Lyme Disease, bed sores and medication reactions. Recluse bites are rare and when they occur, ninety percent aren’t significant. “If the spider can’t be produced by the victim, if the victim doesn’t live in an area indigenous to the spider, if the victim doesn’t have proof of spiders in their home, it’s unlikely a Brown Recluse bite was the cause of a necrotizing bacterial infection.”

In a 2002 paper, Mr. Vetter released his findings of a home in Kansas where 2,055 Brown Recluse spiders were collected. No one in the family of four received bites. My husband and I have lived in our house for nine years.  I’ve seen and killed dozens of recluses. We have Siamese cats that love to eat bugs but they’re smart enough to leave a Recluse alone. We’ve received no brown recluse bites but a scorpion stung me three summers ago.  It felt like someone held a lit cigarette to my thigh. I had an awful reaction and was on steroids and antibiotics for weeks. Am I searching my house for scorpions now? No. It stung me outside.

The Orkin man comes every two months to replace the organic sticky insect traps placed around the house. Recluses are common in Southwest Missouri because as I said, the insects they prefer to eat live in the area. Nine out of ten times, one or two Brown Recluse spider bodies are found in the traps. We rarely find other insects, which leads me to conclude these spiders and their Siamese assistants are doing an excellent job.

As a gardener, I know the vast majority of spiders are beneficial. The general public has trouble accepting this fact. I believe it’s because people are taught to fear spiders when they’re little kids. Spiders and insects have tremendous power over some people, causing them to shriek and run by simply walking across their carpet. This is the reaction we should have when we learn about a crime against humanity on the news.

I’ll never forget what Anastasia Becker, Entomologist and Missouri Department of Agriculture Integrated Pest Management Program Administrator told my Insect Identification class. She said “if we didn’t have insects, we’d be waist high in dead bodies.”

Arachnids and insects are controversial; they’re hated and loved, described as beneficial and non-beneficial. They’re integral to the food chain and they aren’t going away; thousands of new species are discovered each year. Knowledge is an effective tool in dealing with phobias—it decreases anxiety and enables people to calmly walk away, to leave their fears at the movie theater.



For more information, see Myth of the Brown Recluse, Fact, Fear, and Loathing, Rick Vetter

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Jules Jacob

julie ginkgoJulie "Jules" Jacob is a contemporary poet who often writes about dichotomous conditions and relationships among humans and the natural world. Her poems are recently featured or forthcoming in Plume Poetry, The Tishman Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Rust + Moth, Yes Poetry and elsewhere. She is the author of The Glass Sponge chapbook with select poems featured at the Colorado Gallery of the Arts and Le Moulin à Nef where she was a resident of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Poetry Workshop.

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