Summary: Email forward warns about the danger of Brown Recluse spiders and includes graphic pictures of a wound supposedly caused by a recluse bite (Full commentary below.)
Update: A new version of the warning message claims that the spider shown in the photograph is a "new known" spider that is spreading throughout eastern Australia and heading for Western Australia. This information is untrue. See commentary for details.
Example:(Submitted, May 2006)
I thought that you would all benefit from these pictures, now the last couple pictures are nasty and the very last picture is the spider itself, but basically these pictures are showing the effects of a brown recluse spider bite.
The following illustrates the progression of a brown recluse spider bite. The affected skin actually dies on his body. Some of the pictures towards the end are pretty nasty, but take a look at the last one -- it is a picture of the spider itself.
The Brown Recluse Spider is the most dangerous spider that we have here in the USA.
A person can die from it's bite. We all should know what the spider looks like. Send this around to people you love, because it is almost summertime. People will be digging around, doing yard work, spring cleaning, and sometimes in their attics. Please be careful.
Spider bites are dangerous and can have permanent and highly negative consequences.
They like the darkness and tend to live in storage sheds or attics or other areas that might not be frequented by people or light. If you have a need to be in your attic, go up there and turn on a light and leave it on for about 30 minutes before you go in to do your work.
This man was bitten by a Brown Recluse spider:
The following illustrates the progression of a brown recluse spider bite. The affected skin actually dies on his body.
Some of the pictures towards the end are pretty nasty, but take a look at the last one -- it is a picture of the spider itself.
A person can die from it's bite. We all should know what the spider looks like
The Dangerous Brown Recluse Spider
This email forward warns of the dangers of the Brown Recluse spider and includes several photographs depicting the progression of a wound supposedly caused by a bite from one of these spiders. Versions of the warning have been circulating since at least 2002.
Although there is no reason to doubt that the wound depicted in the photographs is real, there is also no way of determining if it was actually caused by a Brown Recluse spider bite. This message does not identify the victim shown in the pictures nor does it provide any way of confirming that the wound was a result of a Brown Recluse. Different versions have claimed that the bite occurred in several different areas of the United States and Canada.
Brown Recluse venom can cause necrosis (tissue death) in the area of the bite and can result in a deep and painful wound that takes a long time to heal. However, a number of other causes can result in similar wounds. An Ohio State University Fact Sheet about Brown Recluse Spiders notes that:
Necrotic wounds can result from a variety of agents such as bacteria (Staphylococcus, "flesh-eating" Streptococcus, etc.), viruses, fungi, and arthropods (non-recluse spiders, centipedes, mites, ticks, wasps, bedbugs, kissing bugs, biting flies, etc.). Necrotic conditions also can be caused by vascular and lymphatic disorders, drug reactions, underlying diseases states, and a variety of other agents.
That said, it is possible that the wound is indeed the result of a Brown Recluse spider bite. However, true or not, the message that accompanies the photograph tends to exaggerate risks associated with the bite of the Brown Recluse. Many Brown Recluse bites only cause a small red mark and heal without long-term effects. Also, deaths from Brown Recluse bites are extremely rare. In an article discussing this email warning, entomologist Rick Vetter from the University of California, notes that:
Despite the fact that lots of people believe that brown recluses are deadly, there are only about 8 reported deaths from possible brown recluse bites in the medical literature, Philip Anderson states that there is still not one VERIFIED death from a brown recluse bite and none of the alleged fatal cases are convincing.
Vetter also explains that, if the images do really depict a Brown recluse bite, the case would be "truly one of the rare, horrific ones" and certainly not the normal outcome of such a bite.
Also, Brown Recluse bites are very commonly misdiagnosed and this adds to the myths and hysteria surrounding the creatures. According to a University of California article,
One reason for the great "awareness" of the recluse spiders throughout the United States is that necrotic wounds are misdiagnosed as "brown recluse bites." Although recluses can cause these wounds, the biological data involving the distribution of the spider indicate that most of these diagnoses are incorrect.
Furthermore, the Ohio State University Fact Sheet notes that the "brown recluse spider is not aggressive, and it normally bites only when crushed, handled or disturbed."
Thus, think twice before forwarding this message. The wound depicted may not even be from a Brown Recluse and, in any case, the message overstates the risk of these spiders. Certainly, Brown Recluse spiders can be dangerous and people should be aware of what they look like and where they live. However, I would suggest reviewing Rick Vetter's in-depth analysis of this message and other information about recluse spiders before you hit the forward button.
Update: November 2008
During 2008, a new version of the warning message began circulating in Australia. The new variant includes the same photographs as the earlier version, but substitutes the following information in place of the original text:
This is a new known spider, so please take note. Has been found all over Eastern Aust and heading to WA. Looks similar to a huntsman.
This spider is in all states so watchout in fact it looks a bit like a huntsman
Not a good look!!
Please take note of this spider - it is very dangerous. Please warn kids and send to every one you know to alert them as well! This spider is breeding at a rate of speed and is found in more and more houses!!!!
While the veracity of the original version is questionable, this version of the warning is totally untrue and should be considered as an outright hoax. The spider shown in both versions of the warning message is indeed a Brown Recluse. Although the spider is known to inhabit a restricted area of a southern Australian state, there are no credible reports that suggest that the Brown Recluse or any similar spider is now spreading in Australia. Nor have there been any recorded bites from the spider in Australia. The message uses the same set of images that were included in the original US version. Thus, it seems clear that some prankster has simply modified the original version to suit Australian conditions and sent it on its way.
Furthermore, the Queensland Museum has also dismissed the warning message as a hoax. After many enquirers from concerned members of the public, Queensland Museum has now published an article debunking the hoax on its website: Spider hoax clogs inboxes Australia-wide
Some commentators have suggested that the Australian version of the warning may refer to Australia's White-tailed Spider.
The White-tailed Spider is a creature that, like the Brown Recluse in the US, has been the subject of many reports regarding the severity of necrotic wounds caused by its bite. However, these reports are largely unsubstantiated. A fact sheet on the Australian Museum website notes:
White-tailed Spider bites can cause initial burning pain followed by swelling and itchiness at the bitten area. Occasionally, weals, blistering or local ulceration have been reported - conditions known medically as necrotising arachnidism. As well as the spider's venom, minor bacterial infection of the wound may be a contributory factor in such cases.
A debate continues about the involvement of White-tailed Spider bite in cases of severe ulcerative skin lesions seen in patients diagnosed as probable spider bite victims. Typically, in such cases no direct evidence of spider bite is available. Sensational media reporting of supposed cases of severe "necrotising arachnidism" has given the White-tailed Spider a bad reputation. However, a recent study has monitored the medical outcomes of over 100 verified White-tailed Spider bites and found not a single case of ulceration (confirming the results of an earlier study). The available evidence suggests that skin ulceration is not a common outcome of White-tailed Spider bite.
And, in any case, the photograph in the warning message certainly does not show a White-tailed Spider.
Sending on this bogus warning message, will serve only to spread misinformation and cause unnecessary fear and alarm.