A poisonous brown widow spider, a cousin to the well-known black widow, is increasingly being spotted in Louisiana, experts say.
It is belongs to a group that is officially known as the "recluse spiders" and are also commonly referred to as "fiddleback" spiders or "violin" spiders because of the violin-shaped marking on the top surface of the cephalothorax (fused head and thorax).
The spiders are generally found in tropical areas but were reported along the Mississippi Gulf Coast last year.
Entomologists with the Louisiana State University AgCenter say the spiders perhaps migrated from Florida through commercial imports of plants, food, building materials, or furniture.
LSU entomologist Dennis Ring is advising Louisiana residents to wear gloves, long-sleeved shirts and long pants when working outdoors, especially in areas that don't get a lot of human activity.
The brown recluse spider is not aggressive, and it normally bites only when crushed, handled or disturbed. Some people have been bitten in bed after inadvertently rolling over onto the spider. Others have been bitten after accidentally touching the spider when cleaning storage areas. Some bites occur when people put on seldom used clothing or shoes inhabited by a brown recluse.
Ring says the spiders are most often found in areas that haven't been disturbed, such as brush piles, wood piles and areas where hurricane debris has accumulated. They also can show up in crawl spaces, under chairs, in garbage can handles and under flower pots, eaves and porch railings, he said.
According to the Florida Dept.of Agriculture Web site, the most common symptoms of a widow spider bite are intense pain, rigid abdominal muscles, muscle cramping, malaise, sweating, nausea and high blood pressure. If untreated, symptoms usually last 3-5 days.
Other experts say that the bite of the brown recluse spider can result in a painful, deep wound that takes a long time to heal. Fatalities are extremely rare, but bites are most dangerous to young children, the elderly, and those in poor physical condition. When there is a severe reaction to the bite, the site can erupt into a "volcano lesion" (a hole in the flesh due to damaged, gangrenous tissue). The open wound may range from the size of an adult's thumbnail to the span of a hand. The dead tissue gradually sloughs away, exposing underlying tissues. The sunken, ulcerating sore may heal slowly up to 6 to 8 weeks. Full recovery may take several months and scarring may remain.