5Ws+1H: What It's About: Most Okie spiders not dangerous

The brown recluse is one of two spiders in Oklahoma considered dangerous to humans.

Arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders, is among the most common phobias in the U.S., with studies showing around a third of people in the country suffer from it.

It’s possible, though, to fear spiders, but not have arachnophobia. Arachnophobia is an anxiety disorder – an intense, debilitating terror of spiders and other arachnids that can cause a significant impact on a person’s life. It’s different than just not liking spiders. Phobias are better dealt with through behavioral therapy and other measures. But for the common human who doesn’t enjoy seeing a spider, the Oklahoma State Cooperative Extension Service has advice for people on avoiding the arthropods.

“We notice them more at this time of years partly because they’ve gotten larger at the end of their life cycles, and they might be protecting egg sacs,” said Andrine Shufran, OSU Extension association specialist with the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. “They’re also like us in a certain way: Many are preparing for winter, looking for food, water and shelter, which might be inside our homes.”

Spiders usually hatch in the spring, so throughout the summer, they have months to grow. By the time fall arrives, they’re much larger. Fall is also typically mating season for spiders, so males will emerge as they look for mates, while females await in their webs. They may become more visible to humans during autumn months, but it’s likely the spiders have been living in the home all along, and they’ll become less noticeable as winter comes.

While arachnids may look scary, only two in Oklahoma are considered dangerous, according to Shufran. The brown recluse’s bite will usually produce a small, pus-filled blister, and a large area around the bite becomes red and swollen. The victim may be restless and feverish. The venom can kill tissue and expose the underlying muscle. Healing can take anywhere from six to eight weeks. However, the brown, soft-bodied spider with long legs is not aggressive and normally bites only when pressure is applied to it.

The male black widow is easily recognized by the knob-like appendages on the front of the head, while the female is marked with a reddish hourglass-shaped spot on the underside of the abdomen. 

The female’s bite can result in serious medical issues. But the spider is not aggressive unless she is confined or disturbed, according to OSU Extension.

The rest of the spiders that call Oklahoma home have much less harmful bites. They’re actually beneficial predators to ecosystems and serve an important role by keeping populations of many insect pests at bay.

“It’s hard for people to appreciate this, but spiders are good – they protect our fruits and vegetables,” Shufran said. “By comparison, butterflies and moths are bad – they’re responsible for eating a large portion of our crops.”

While they may be beneficial, those looking to keep them away can frequently clean closets, cellars and other potential hiding spots. Homeowners can seal cracks in walls to prevent them from getting in. 

Those with plants near their front doors and window can try removing them to take away hiding places. Keeping the house clean, in general, will help prevent bugs that spiders like to eat from coming into the home.

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