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Watch for spiders in your holiday decorations

As you are unpacking your boxes of holiday decorations, watch for dangerous spiders whose bites could put a damper on your holiday celebrations.
by Heather Warlick Modified: November 26, 2013 at 10:00 pm •  Published: November 25, 2013

If you haven't already, you'll likely soon be scrounging around in your garage, pulling down boxes of Christmas decorations that have been stacked and sitting since last year.

It's a good time for a friendly reminder to be vigilant of some squatters that may have taken up residence in and around your boxes of decor: spiders.

In a pile of firewood, under rocks in your garden and inside shoes and clothes you haven't worn in awhile are other places you'll sometimes find dangerous — and sometimes benevolent — spiders.

As the weather gets colder, many spiders seek hospitable habitats and head indoors.

Most spiders found in Oklahoma, though they may look terrifying, are not a real threat to humans. But there are two kinds of spiders most Oklahomans know to fear: brown recluse and black widow spiders.

The good news: “You're not on their meal plan,” said Dr. Richard Grantham, an entomologist and director of the Plant & Insect Diagnostic Lab at Oklahoma State University.

The bad news: “When they bite you it's no joke,” said Andrew Knittle, now a staff writer at The Oklahoman, who was bitten in 2007 by a brown recluse.

Not everyone will have a bad reaction to a brown recluse or black widow spider bite, but those who have severe reactions usually end up with scars to show for their experiences, as did Knittle. He was bitten after showering and throwing on a sweater one night, just before bed.

A few minutes later, his arm started itching intensely and he scratched at the irritation. He pulled up his sleeve and a dead spider dropped to the floor. It was clearly a brown recluse.

“It looked like a big mosquito bite,” Knittle said. “I immediately started feeling nauseated and sick.”

The next morning, he almost passed out on the way to the restroom.

“I think once I stood up from bed, the venom went through my body,” he said. He had terrible flu-like symptoms all day.

Without health insurance at the time, the two-month ordeal cost Knittle about $3,000, he said. It was extremely painful, he said, because his wound care doctor would cover the wound, let it scab up, then pull off the scabbed area; cover it again, let it scab, pull off the scab and repeat the process until the wound healed.

Even so, Knittle still lives in the same home and still has the spiders as roommates. His family has developed a healthy respect for the spiders, which he says really do try to stay away from humans.

Most areas of the state are hospitable to both brown recluse and black widow spiders. Brown recluse prefer a hot, dry environment while black widows like humidity, said Kenneth R. Hobson, associate professor of biology at University of Oklahoma.

“Brown recluse are not aggressive, but we live in an arachnophobic society,” Hobson said. “There is very widespread misinformation, misunderstanding about brown recluse bites in the United States. It's like pop science, urban legend type stuff.”

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by Heather Warlick
Life & Style Editor
Since graduating from University of Central Oklahoma with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism, Staff Writer Heather Warlick has written stories for The Oklahoman's Life section. Her beats have included science, health, home and garden, family,...
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If you start to fear all spiders, then we're in trouble. Spiders are very, very beneficial. They eat lots of other pest insects out there and without that occurring, we'll get more and more problems.”

Dr. Richard Grantham, an entomologist and director of

the Plant & Insect Diagnostic Lab at Oklahoma State University,
an entomologist and director of

the Plant & Insect Diagnostic Lab at Oklahoma State University

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