Brown Recluse Challenge

So you or someone you know or someone you know who knows someone else was bitten by a brown recluse spider. You know this is true because the doctor said it was a brown recluse spider bite even though the doctor never saw the spider.

I’m issuing a challenge to anyone who thinks they have a brown recluse spider. Actually, Rick Vetter, University of California Entomologist, issued the challenge. I’m just extending his challenge to Northwest Florida and Southern Alabama and to anyone reading this article.

If you have what you think is an actual brown recluse spider, I want to see it. I’ll send any and all spiders thought to be a brown recluse to Vetter at the University of California for identification. In doing so, we’ll be part of his study. After the study is complete, I’ll write a follow up article reporting on what spiders were identified from our area, including any brown recluse spiders.

“Despite everything I’ve written… people still would rather believe the myths, hearsay, erroneous word-of-mouth, sensationalistic media or their neighbors who have no arachnological training whatsoever”, says Vetter. Folks send Vetter spiders for identification because they are sure they have found a brown recluse only to find out it is not – in some cases, Vetter says it isn’t even a spider.

We see the same thing at the University of Florida Extension Office in Okaloosa County. People insist they have a brown recluse spider and if they actually produce a spider, it ends up being something other than a brown recluse.

Recently a series of images involving an alleged brown-recluse-caused injury to a thumb have been whizzing around the internet. You may have seen them. I have and so has Vetter. Vetter says that it’s possible the wound did result from a recluse bite but he’s skeptical. A number of aspects surrounding the images are pretty suspicious and have the classic symptoms of a hoax, according to Vetter.

When people see these images, it can create quite a stir. The results of a brown recluse bite may not be pretty - it can look downright gruesome. The tissue surrounding the bite can be killed, resulting in a sunken sore – sometimes requiring a skin graft.

What’s unfair is that many times the diagnosis of the bite is based solely on clinical examination with no evidence of a spider. Sometimes there are other causes for the wound such as a secondary skin infection and the recluse is wrongly implicated. Sometimes the incident is reported in an area out of the spider’s known range. As a result, the brown recluse is perceived to be commonplace.

The brown recluse’s native range is southeastern Nebraska to Texas, east to southernmost Ohio and Georgia. But the spider has spread to some extent out of its native range, possibly including parts of Alabama and Northwest Florida. The literature states that it is not an established species in Florida, though.

Even though we probably do have brown recluse spiders in our area, we want proof. If you have a spider you think may be a recluse, I want to see it. For instructions on submitting the spider, call the Okaloosa County Extension Office at 689-5850 or 729-1400 Extension 5850.

Spider Sample Submissions

We need a fresh sample that is still intact and in good overall shape. Spiders that are damaged or deteriorated are not suitable for identification. You may bring your spider to our office or mail it. We need an actual sample, not a picture.

How to package your spider:

Option 1

Place spider in leak proof container with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol.

Option 2

If the spider is alive, the best way to send it would be to place the spider in a tight unbreakable container with a crumpled up paper towel so the spider has crevices to hide in during shipping.


Labeling Instructions

All specimens should include a label (use pencil so it won't run if leaks occur). Include the persons name submitting the spider, phone number, information on date you found it and the City, State and County where found. Any other information you can include ("found in bathtub", "in a box sent from Mississippi", "collected while biting my brother") would be of interest.

Approximately, each Friday, I’ll package any spiders submitted and mail them to the University of California for official identification. The person submitting the spider will be informed of its identification through the Okaloosa County Extension Office.

For additional submission options or for additional information, call our office at 689-5850 or 729-1400 ext. 5850.


brown recluse spider
Submit Samples via

Larry Williams
Recluse ID Project
Okaloosa County Extension Office
5479 Old Bethel Road
Crestview FL 32536


Okaloosa County Extension Office
5479 Old Bethel Road
Our office is open Monday – Friday, 8:00am to 5:00pm.