What You Need to Know About Brown Recluse Spiders

Learn how to identify this potentially dangerous type of spider

Brown recluses are a type of spider only found in some parts of the world. It can be hard to tell if a spider is a brown recluse unless you're an expert, but there are some clues to help you identify it.

A brown recluse is about the size of a quarter, including its legs. You can spot one by its dark brown coloring and six eyes (most spiders have eight). They also have violin- or fiddle-shaped markings. Brown recluses can be dangerous because of the venom from their bites.

The scientific name for the brown recluse is Loxosceles reclusa.

This article will go over what brown recluses look like. You'll also learn why brown recluses are dangerous, where they are most commonly found, and what to do if you think you have brown recluses in your home.

Do Brown Recluses Bite?

Brown recluse spider bites are actually pretty rare. They are not aggressive but will bite if they are disturbed—for example, if you roll over on one in your bed or pick up clothing that one is hiding in.

The venom of the brown recluse can cause a mild or severe reaction. People with compromised immune systems, older adults, and children are more likely to have severe reactions to bites from brown recluses.

You may have a hard time figuring out if you've been bitten by a brown recluse. A brown recluse bite can easily be mistaken for something else, like a red bump or a small wound on the skin.

It can also be hard for providers to know for sure that a bite is from a brown recluse. There is nothing that clearly identifies the bite of a brown recluse spider. There is also no blood test or culture that can detect brown recluse venom in a possible spider bite.

If You've Been Bitten By a Brown Recluse

If you think you've been bitten by a brown recluse, apply ice to the affected area, elevate it, and seek medical attention immediately.

Signs and Symptoms of Bites From Brown Recluses

A brown recluse bite usually does not hurt. The symptoms of bites from brown recluses may not appear for several hours.

Once symptoms start, the area of the bite can be red, swollen, and tender. Most bites from brown recluses do not spread (localized) and heal within a few weeks without medical treatment and they don't cause complications.

In more serious cases, a wound or lesion forms where the brown recluse bit. It could have a dry, sinking bluish patch with irregular edges, a pale center, and redness on the outside.

As the brown recluse's venom continues to destroy tissue, the bite wound can get bigger by several inches over a day or weeks. The bite can eventually become dead tissue (necrotic ulcer) and leave a deep scar.

Rarely, bites from brown recluses produce a whole-body (systemic) reaction that causes a fever, chills, dizziness, rash, or vomiting.

How to ID Brown Recluses

If you've been bitten by a spider and you're worried about it being a brown recluse, there are a few things to consider.

Know Where Brown Recluses Live

Brown recluse spiders live in very specific parts of the south-central United States. The spiders are called "recluses" because they are hard to find even in the places where they live.

States With Brown Recluses

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee
  • Texas

Rare, isolated instances of brown recluses (such as by being brought into the state) have occurred in:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • North Carolina
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

The colored areas on the map below show where other spiders in the same species as brown recluses—Loxosceles—are found.

The Texan recluse and desert recluse are related to the brown recluse. They all have similar venom—in fact, some other Loxesceles species actually have more dangerous venom than brown recluses.

If the spider was found somewhere other than a known habitat of a brown recluse, it would be very unlikely to be one. If it is outside the other areas, it's probably not even a related species of spider.

Rick Vetter

Check Your Home

Brown recluses like dark, dingy places where they can hide under things. Within their habitat, there can be serious infestations—if there is one brown recluse spider, there are most likely dozens or even hundreds more of them.

However, even in homes with serious brown recluse infestations, it is unusual for people to get bitten.

Look at the Legs

Brown recluses have legs that look different from other spiders. If you look at brown recluses from the side, you'll see how the body sits low and the legs angle up to a point.

The angular, slanted leg shape gives brown recluses their scientific name (Loxosceles means "slanted legs").

If a spider does not have this type of leg, it's not a brown recluse. If it does, you can also check for other characteristics of brown recluses.

Loxosceles recluse spider capture in a plastic cup
Joao Paulo Burini / Getty Images

There are also two other features that set brown recluses apart from other species of spiders:

  • No spines: Unlike many other spider species, Loxosceles do not have spikes or spines on their legs. The legs of brown recuses are smooth.
  • Solid color: Some spiders have multicolored legs, but Loxosceles' legs are solid. Brown recluses have no stripes and no patterns.

Check for Three Groups of Two Eyes

Another key feature to look for to identify brown recluses is the eyes. Brown recluse spiders have six eyes. The eyes are paired in groups of two (diads) and arranged on the front and sides of the spider's head.

Loxosceles
Pablo Dolsan / Getty Images

Other spider species might have eight eyes, or six eyes arranged in two triads (groups of three).

You cannot be sure a spider is a brown recluse based only on what the eyes look like. However, if the eyes are not in the proper pattern, then it's definitely not a brown recluse.

Inspect the Body

Brown recluses also have specific features on their bodies that make them look different from other kinds of spiders.

Brown recluse (Loxosceles) spider on a ruler
Joao Paulo Burini / Getty Images
  • The body of a brown recluse (without legs) will be no more than 3/8 of an inch long. Including the legs, the average brown recluse is around the size of a quarter.
  • The big round part on the backside of a brown recluse (abdomen) is a little fuzzy, has very fine hair, and is a solid color.

Find the Fiddle Marking

Brown recluses often have a violin-shaped mark on their back. However, not all brown recluses have it and even if it's there, you might not be able to clearly see it.

There are also other spiders that also have the violin marking on their backs that are not brown recluses.

Desert recluse spider close up
The classic violin mark isn't obvious on all species of loxosceles like this desert recluse, but the venom is just as bad.

Marshal Hedin

How to Avoid Brown Recluse Infestation

If you have brown recluses in your home, know that they can be hard to get rid of.

Brown recluses like to hide in dark places like crevices, corners, and wall-floor junctures. Clutter and storage areas are ideal places for brown recluses to hide.

To avoid an infestation of brown recluses, seal up the places in your home where they are likely to get in. For example:

  • Using weather-stripping around windows and window frames
  • Filling cracks in floorboards with plastic wood filler or wood adhesive
  • Removing clutter

Summary

Brown recluses rarely bite. When they do, brown recluse bites usually heal without treatment and don't cause any long-term effects.

However, some people have severe reactions to brown recluse bites, including developing a serious wound, fever, dizziness, rash, or vomiting. If you think you've been bitten by a brown recluse, get medical attention right away.

If you've seen spiders around and wonder if they could be brown recluses, there are a few ways to investigate. Brown recluses are only found in the south-central part of the United States. They can be identified by their slanted legs, six eyes, and a violin-shaped mark on their back.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you get rid of brown recluse spiders?

    Call a professional exterminator to get rid of brown recluses. Products like glue traps may work, but an exterminator's strategies will be more effective for an infestation of brown recluses.

  • How do you treat a brown recluse bite?

    The symptoms of a brown recluse bite can be treated with antihistamines, colchicine, dapsone, and corticosteroids.

    A medicine with antibodies that neutralize the venom (antivenom), can prevent large skin ulcers if it's given within a few hours of being bitten by a brown recluse.

  • What should you do if you find a brown recluse in your home?

    If you think you have been bitten by a brown recluse spider, apply ice, elevate the affected area, and seek medical attention immediately.

    Try to catch the spider so you can give it to an expert to identify. You'll also want to call an exterminator to get the brown recluses out of your home.

  • Does peppermint oil repel brown recluse spiders?

    A 2017 study found that peppermint oil might repel some spiders, but not specifically brown recluses.

  • Do brown recluse spiders jump?

    Brown recluse spiders do not jump.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Vetter RS. Brown recluse and other recluse spiders. UC IPM Online.

  2. University of Kentucky. Entomology. Brown recluse spider.

  3. MedlinePlus. Brown recluse spider.

  4. Illinois Department of Public Health. Brown recluse and black widow spiders.

  5. Penn State. Brown Recluse Spiders.

  6. Rahmani F, Banan Khojasteh SM, Ebrahimi Bakhtavar H, et al. Poisonous spiders: Bites, symptoms, and treatment; An educational reviewEmerg (Tehran). 2014;2(2):54-58.

  7. Fischer A, Ayasse M, Andrade MCB. Natural Compounds as Spider Repellents: Fact or Myth?Journal of Economic Entomology. 2017;111(1):314-318. doi:10.1093/jee/tox339

  8. Indiana State University. Brown Recluse Project.

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.