The Basement Files

Space invaders


Spring, while late to the show, has finally arrived for the most part. Sure, trees still lack leaves, and there is the potential of another freeze this weekend, but spring is here and it’s time to pack away your winter gear, get that spring cleaning done and get out those toys you’ve been waiting all winter to use again.

While rummaging for my golf clubs and grill — the two most important items of the summer — I came across one thing I can’t stand about spring, something that I’ve happily put away in the back of my subconscious over the course of the winter. Those are my perennial enemy, my summertime foe in the battle for the basement, the spider.

I know, “Blah, blah, blah, spiders are beneficial, all that jazz and such,” but if I come across one of those eight-legged terrors, I go after it, and its brood, with ruthless vigor and reckless abandon. Or I scream like a little girl depending on how big the spider is and how awake I am at the point of discovery.

Either way, spiders can ruin your day, especially if they are venomous. I would be remiss not to go over the species of venomous spiders, not for safety reasons, but to give you the “heebee jeebee’s.”

Black widow

Probably the most well-known of local venomous spiders, and probably the most overrated. The female spider, which is probably the one you will run into because she eats her mate, can grow up to a mammoth one-half inch and is characterized by a black body, thin legs, and that foreboding red hourglass on her abdomen. Black widows like secluded, dark places, such as wood piles, under rocks or in the rafters of your garage. All places you might come into contact with during spring cleaning. Just throwing that out there.

Now, on the off chance a black widow spider bites you, the bite will look like two small puncture wounds and its venom can cause profuse sweating, abdominal pain, muscle stiffness, and rarely, death. While the chances a healthy adult actually dies from a black widow bite is rather low (it’s much higher for children, the elderly, and the immune-compromised) it is suggested to seek medical attention if you suspect a bite, because, well, why wouldn’t you?

Brown recluse

The other big baddie is the brown recluse, or “fiddle-back.” While there has only been one recorded specimen in Minnesota (in Lake County in 1953, so I’m guessing it is probably dead by now,) they have been known to come in on fruit, like tarantulas, and are more common in Iowa and parts south. Bites from brown recluse spiders are rather painless, then get “wicked bad” quickly. Within an hour, the burning starts.

After a day or two, the skin begins to darken and become raised and an ulcer can form. Extensive tissue damage can occur, which might require surgery to repair. In rare cases, a brown recluse bite can cause kidney and liver damage. And it can take a whopping six to eight weeks for the bite to heal.

If you suspect a bite, again, go to the doctor. According to the University of Minnesota website, they also suggest trying to capture the spider for later identification (or, as they put it, crushing it gently).

However, these symptoms are somewhat similar to a common sac spider bite. This spider is common in this state, and its bites have been known to have been misdiagnosed as recluse bites. That is probably why the U of M wants you to capture the dangerous one. I say “dangerous one” because the symptoms, while similar, are much less severe, and last only a few days.

Jumping spider

Super rare in these parts, there is another one that might “jump up” on you, the jumping spider.

Bountiful in Minnesota, I didn’t realize I had a jumping spider in my basement until I actually bothered to look up what the little creeps look like. This species is actually the spider that accounts for the most bites in the country. It’s probably because these fuzzy little jerks can jump at you. These bites can cause redness and swelling, chills and vomiting, and can last four or so days. You will likely run into one of these guys because they are active during the day, like windows, ceilings and walls, that get sunlight.

Now that you are sufficiently spooked, you can go online and look up what these creatures look like, then proceed to freak out the next time one crawls across your foot while you are minding your own business “on the throne” trying to get some reading done.

For more indoor and outdoor spider recourses, the U of M has some great info on more creepy-crawlies here

Chris Hamble is a freelance writer and humor columnist serving newspapers in Minnesota and Wisconsin and is a lifelong Stillwater resident.