Dr. Know: Venemous Inquiries

Does Portland really have a brown recluse spider problem?

My roommate claims Portland is full of deadly brown recluse spiders. I say the brown recluse menace is overstated. I also think he's using said menace as an excuse not to clean the basement. Who's right? 

—Spider Woman

Your letter puts me in an awkward position. On one hand, I strive always to be a bastion of dispassionate, scientific accuracy, ever free of bias and superstition.

On the other hand, it is my long-held and frequently stated view that all spiders are 100 percent deadly at all times. If one of them bites you, or touches you, or even looks at you with its eight horrible, horrible eyes, you will immediately die in paroxysms of toxic agony.

Needless to say, my basement's a shit show. That said, I must put prejudice aside: Not only is the brown recluse menace overstated, it's nonexistent. Portland does not lie within the range of any of the 10 species of brown recluse spiders.

In fairness to your sensibly spider-hating roomie, however, I should mention that the Rose City is well within the range of Tegenaria agrestis, the hobo spider. Hobo spiders are brown, and I'd imagine at least some of them are reclusive, so it's easy to get confused.

Hobo spiders are said to have a nasty bite. Reports differ as to exactly how nasty—certainly not fatal, though. Their PR hasn't been helped by their alternate common name: the "aggressive house spider."

While it pains me to come in on the side of an evil, awful, icky spider, this scary name seems to be the result of stupid people thinking that agrestis is Latin for "aggressive." It's actually from the same root as "agriculture," and means "from the fields."

Aw, little field spider! That's almost wholesome. I'm still stomping the next one I see, though.

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