Face of the Brown Recluse

Loxosceles reclusa, the brown recluse
Loxosceles reclusa, the brown recluse

Among the more interesting animals to appear at the BugShot photography workshop was a Loxosceles reclusa caught wandering about the basement of the assembly building. I had never seen one before.

Most of us are taught to recognize the famously venomous recluse by a violin-shaped pattern on the spider’s back. But other species, including some common wolf spiders, sport similar markings, so it is better to make use of eye arrangement to confirm the identification. The recluse’s eyes are grouped, unusually, into three clusters: a central pair and two lateral pairs, clearly visible in the photograph above.

brown recluse Loxosceles reclusa

Although the venom of this arachnid can cause nasty lesions that fail to heal, the brown recluse has an undeservedly poor reputation. This single spider catches blame for bites by a great many species, as well as a host of skin conditions that aren’t even arthropod bites. In fact, the brown recluse occupies a surprisingly small geographic range in the center of the United States. Necrotic bites along the east and west coasts result from other, unrelated spiders.

Incidentally, I regard these photos as something of a personal milestone. I am mildly arachnophobic, you see.

brown recluse Loxosceles reclusa


photo details:
Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x lens on a Canon EOS 7D
ISO 100-400, 1/125 sec, f/11 – f/13
indirect strobe in a white box

26 thoughts on “Face of the Brown Recluse”

  1. Nice photo. Brown recluses have been on my mind the past few days, ever since Bug Girl posted a link to an article about how they’re blamed unfairly for many necrotic skin lesions even far outside their native range. We briefly discussed brown recluses in a first aid certification course I took in northern Wisconsin! I found a big brown spider with a vaguely violin-like marking on my living room floor tonight but I’m pretty confident it was some kind of wolf spider. Being the weird bug-loving person that I am, I admired it for a moment and then let it go about its business in my living room.

      1. Nice to see someone not stomping out species of the unknown but for gods sake, remove the thing safely at the least. I would never allow a potentially necro-venomous species from just wandering free. Sheesh

  2. So, when are you writing your book on insect macro photography again? =)

    Hey, have you thought about doing a collection of your photos? I’d buy *that* book, too! Maybe as a Kickstarter project? Again, I’d be a Supporter and I’d totally drum up more people, too.

  3. well congrats on facing your fears. they are pretty interesting critters. like women in many ways. pretty scary with those long legs and crazy hair but also very nurturing of their young. got to pin their legs and mate quickly before they eat you. and very helpful when you think about how many insects they consume.

  4. The closeup is great. I can attest to the fact that you were a very competent spider-wrangler despite your misgivings about the subject (which I appreciated, being probably more arachnophobic than you).

  5. While the natural range of the brown recluse spider is restricted to the central US, isolated populations can occur elsewhere. When I was a grad student at NC State U., I knew a guy, the brother of an entomology professor, who claimed to have the brown recluse in his house. A fellow grad student who was an expert on spiders asked me if he could have specimens for his collection. So in came the professor one day nervously carrying a jar containing two live spiders from his brother, which I gave to the spider expert. We all agreed they were brown recluse spiders, although I didn’t have the opportunity to put one under the microscope.

    1. Not sure about these isolated populations. My wolf spider expert friend presented a talk about the brown reculse and he would hartily disagree with this. For one thing, how would such a distribution pattern come to be in place. Just questioning.

      1. It is possible that they were Mediterranean recluses, which require genital dissection to differentiate them from the brown recluse. They are an introduced species that can occur in human-populated areas without a native population of brown recluses. I know this because I collected some Mediterranean recluses in New Orleans, where the browns are not thought to occur.

  6. I kind of wonder why people are so scared of spider bites, given how unlikely it is to get bitten by one. From the very few people I’ve talked to who can actually confirm getting bitten by a spider, it sounds like almost all of them are not even as bad as a bee sting, and one has to really work at it (or be very unlucky) to persuade the spider to actually bite. The odds of getting stung by a bee or wasp (or being bitten by a bloodsucking insect) are so dramatically higher that it isn’t even funny. And it isn’t even a question of the nature of the wound; I get little necrotic lesions from black-fly bites every summer that sometimes take weeks to heal.

    And while people fear bees and wasps, the nature of the fear seems completely different – I guess I’d say that people are respectfully wary of stinging insects, but tend to treat spiders as if they are some sort of unholy abomination. And then they show no particular fear of mosquitos or black flies at all!

  7. This spider is common in most older buildings around here, a little bit less so in newer ones. In other words, it’s most places where people live and work and they don’t even fully realize it. I always recognize these on sight, by the uniform “mousey brown” abdomen. Most (all?) other spiders of similar proportions have at least a hint of patterning.

    The genus Loxosceles has a number of species across the southern US and southward into the tropics. The bite itself is painful and causes local tissue damage, but it is secondary infection causes necrosis, and rarely, death. Good wound hygiene and use of antibiotics are appropriate treatments, in the highly unlikely event one is bitten.

  8. The close-up shot of the eyes is fantastic. I think medical centers should have that along with a comparison of wolf spiders for all of the people who catch them after being “bitten” by a recluse.

    Afraid of spiders? No! Glad this helped a bit.

  9. they could have named it brown prowler and i bet more of them would be squashed by fence-sitters. it got lucky with the whole recluse thing. so it’s got that going for it (caddyshack reference)

  10. Your head-on perspective is so odd to me since us archonologists usually view spiders from above (a dorsal view) in order to see the eye and other patterns. Abdominal patterns can vary in this species. I appreciate seeing the spider from this perspective, quite refreshing.

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  12. there’s been one on my ceiling for the past 1.5 hours, i can’t stop looking up every 5 seconds.

    i can’t get em cuz i have no ladder and no .22. that’s the only way I imagine to get him what with his bullet proof violin vest.

    i know it’s not possible, but she’s watching me with all 6 of those eyes. keeping tabs. ready to grow wings and call her babies to attack me and dissolve my epidermis.

    All i keep doing is, looking down here to type then, looking up quick like she will be gone and in my sleeve.

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