Fact Check

Brown Recluse

Do photographs show the effects of a brown recluse spider bite?

Published Jun 30, 2003


Claim:   Photographs depict the effects of a brown recluse spider bite.

Status:   Undetermined.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2003]

These pictures are of the damage done by a bite of the brown recluse spider over a period of 10 days. These are not for the faint of heart to view as they are quite graphic.

Click photo to enlarge

Click photo to enlarge

Click photo to enlarge

Click photo to enlarge

Click photo to enlarge

Click photo to enlarge

Variations:   A February 2012 variant identifies the Violin Spider as the culprit responsible for the injuries shown above.

Origins:   Determining whether these photographs actually depict the effects of a brown recluse spider bite was a difficult task since the accompanying text provides no useful identifying information, such as where the putative victim lives or where he was bitten, whether he obtained a diagnosis of his wound from a doctor, whether he sought medical treatment, etc. Various accounts place these pictures as having originated in Missouri, Wisconsin, or California.

These photographs do depict the effects of a June 2003 infection suffered by Lynn McCutchen, an instructor in anatomy and physiology at Kilgore College in Kilgore, Texas, but (despite the labeling of the photographs) even McCutchen isn't sure that the cause of the infection was actually the bite of a brown recluse:

I suspect a spider bite was the cause. I was out in
the wood at Caddo Lake and noticed a bite on my thumb. The doctor I was
seeing thought it was a spider bite. Other doctors told me it was a brown
recluse bite. It was also a MRSA infection. It became so infected
because the first antibiotic I was on was not doing any good and I tried
to finish the semester before going in to see the doctor.

It was a very interesting experience and I no longer wait to go in to the
doctor. Whether or not it was a brown recluse bite or not I can't say. I
saw some very good doctors who specialize in spider bites and they thought
it was. But you have probably seen the latest info on MRSA infections
being misdiagnosed as spider bites.

Others have opined that, whether or not these photographs actually depict the effect of a spider bite, they create an exaggerated sense of the danger posed by

brown recluse spiders. As Phillip Anderson, a Missouri physician who specializes in brown recluse spider bites, explained in an article for the medical journal Missouri Medicine, "Almost all brown recluse spider bites heal nicely in two to three months without medical treatment at all. Also the long-term medical outcome is excellent without treatment." Furthermore, says Anderson, "We are not aware of any verifiable deaths caused by the bite of the North American brown recluse spider." (He noted that several deaths from such wounds "had been reported in medical journals, but none of the reports is convincing.") He also reported that out of "about 1,000 credible recluse spider bites," he was only aware of "about a dozen cases of impressive, sustained hemolysis."

Some say the greatest danger of a bite of this nature is not the direct effects of the venom, but rather the introduction of secondary bacterial infection due to the patient's continually scratching the site (spider bites can itch terribly!) or otherwise failing to keep the wound clean, and that the extent of the effects pictured here are a rare occurrence.

Other completely different medical ailments (unrelated to spider bites) can also produce similar physical symptoms (such as pyoderma gangrenosum or necrotizing fasciitis).

Additional Information:

    Spiders and other Arachnids at UC Riverside Spiders and other Arachnids (University of California, Riverside)

Last updated:   9 February 2012

  Sources Sources:

    Anderson, Phillip.   "Missouri Brown Recluse Spider: A Review and Update."

    Missouri Medicine.   1998 (Vol. 95; pp. 318-322).

    Vetter, Rick.   "Myth of the Brown Recluse."

    University of California, Riverside — Department of Entomology.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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