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Don't tread on me: The hobo spider protects its turf in Juneau

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Hobo spiders can be even-tempered, friendly and even useful in many a household - just don't tick them off.

Recently a Juneau man was hospitalized because of a bite from an elusive spider, said Fred Boehme, owner of Pied Piper Pest Control, who was called to rid the man's home of the arachnid.

The man was hospitalized for three to four days because of a spider bite that may have been from a brown recluse, Boehme said. The spider wasn't caught, so it couldn't be positively identified.

Mike Creswell, executive director of the Juneau Red Cross, said recluse spiders are extremely rare to nonexistent in this part of the country. They are often indigenous to the Pacific regions of the United States, he said, adding that the bite most likely was from the hobo spider, which is common in Southeast Alaska.

The hobo spider, or Tegenaria agrestis, is indigenous to western Europe but was transported to the northwestern United States sometime before the 1930s on cargo from commercial shipping vessels, according to the Hobo Spider Web site maintained by Eagle Rock Research of Twin Falls, Idaho.

Only about 45 percent of hobo spider bites are venomous, the site said. Venomous bites usually are reserved for the spider's prey, but spiders sometimes bite people in defense. Even fewer bites, around 15 percent, result in serious injury or hospitalization, the site said. Toxins in the spider's saliva can cause tissue damage and a lack of oxygen to the bite site in the most extreme cases, the site said.

Dr. Mike Tobin, an emergency room physician for Bartlett Regional Hospital, said he has never seen a fatal bite from a local spider. Often the hobo bite is painless, he said.

"It results in a red area, which turns into a blister formation," Tobin said. "It then develops into this crusty-looking little hole in the skin. They usually take about a month to heal."

The bite can be accompanied by itching, headache, vomiting and diarrhea, Tobin said.

Though it is unlikely to get a recluse bite in this part of the country, it is not unheard of for these spiders to be brought into the Southeast, Tobin said. The recluse bite is slightly more serious and results in "big, black ulcerated legions." Occasionally people die from these bites, he said.

To expedite treatment, it is important to catch the offending spider and bring it to a doctor, he said.

Tobin said doctors treat a recluse or hobo bite with medication on the wound, and may prescribe antibiotics for any subsequent bacterial infections.

Boehme said the spiders aren't looking to bite people. They generally attack only if caught in clothing or if a person rolls over on them, he said. Home infestations of these bugs can't be avoided either, but can be mitigated.

Boehme said people should thoroughly launder bed linens and clothing in closets and drawers, seal cracks in the home, and vacuum thier crawl and attic spaces to prevent the spread of the pests. He added that people should keep outside vegetation trimmed so it is not touching the house, making access more difficult for the spiders.

"People get antsy about spiders. They always want to know how to keep them out and what to do about them," said Boehme. "But we humans are the invaders. Spiders are natural to the environment and are attracted to their environment."

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.



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