No spiders, please
June 12, 2012 1:17 PM   Subscribe

How to make sure spiders don't (bite me as I'm packing, and then) move with me?

This summer, I'm moving a lot of stuff I've left boxed up (in a house) for several months now. Seeing as the house is located in the deep, deep south, I'm worried that the boxes, clothes, what have you might be concealing unpleasant creatures like brown recluses.

Brown recluses TERRIFY me. I've got no reason to believe the house is infested, I said, it's the deep south, and brown recluses are quite common around there, and my stuff has been sitting untouched for months, making it a great hiding ground.

Three questions:

1) How to pack this stuff up safely, without risking bites?
2) How to make sure that any spiders hidden in the boxes don't make it into my apartment in the cooler, less spider-y north?
3) Or, hey, am I worrying for nothing?
posted by artemisia to Health & Fitness (7 answers total)
I'm also scared of spiders, and here's what I do when I'm working in a questionable area.
1. Work in a well-lit area.
2. Use a cordless vacuum to clear out any cobwebs.
3. Wear rubber gloves.
posted by acidic at 1:47 PM on June 12, 2012

I've gotten nailed by brown recluse spiders twice, both times they were hiding out in pants that'd been returned from a commercial laundry; I worked at that time as a maintenance carpenter at a large apartment complex in Houston, they provided us with work clothing -- you've seen the stuff, got your name over one pocket, name of the apt complex over the other pocket, etc and etc. Anyways, it seems that the laundry was in a place that was infested, the little bums loved to crawl into the pants; you'd think I'd learn after the first time to shake them out, right?

But I've lived in Florida and Texas since 1977 and that is the only time I've ever had any contact with them; never once had any (that I've seen, anyways) in any place I've lived, including attics or closets or crawl spaces or whatever. So my take on it is that for whatever reason they really, REALLY loved that commercial laundry, and maybe really loved warm, clean, pressed pants. Or maybe god had it in for me -- none of my co-workers had ever had any problems; I took to reading the book of Job there, for a while.

I can tell you that you absolutely do not want to get bitten by one of those little bastards, you're right about that. But I think that you're exaggerating the danger.

Shake out any clothing, if you're really concerned about it, and maybe run it all through a wash cycle to be sure, before you hang it up. As far as other belongings, well, it's not like they are microscopic, you'll see them (if they are there; they aren't) as you unpack -- keep a shoe close by, to whack them with, and kill two of them for me, if you would please.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:34 PM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have been living with brown recluses in my house for several years. Here's what I can tell you about it:

- They really are recluses. They don't like people. If you see them, they're moving away from you.
- They hunt, rather than build webs, so they go out looking for prey. Cobwebs are not a reliable sign of recluses.
- They do not like to bite if they don't have to. I've caught my cat de-legging one and batting it around the floor, and he was never bitten.
- However, they will curl up in clothing and blankets and shoes. Shake things out thoroughly before putting them on.
- Some spiders look very close to brown recluses. If it doesn't have the eye pattern of 6 eyes, three sets of two, it's not a bad one. But the eyes are very hard to see. We usually trap the spider in a jar and take a photo with the macro lens to check for eyes, then torch it if needed.
- They generally will not climb up furniture and stay on the floor. However, we have found them on the wall. Keep clothing off the floor, and don't let your bedclothes dangle onto the floor. Bedskirts are not necessary in a recluse-y place.
- Exterminators have told me they have bad eyesight, despite their abundance of eyes. I usually see them along edges of things with straight lines, like the wall or the rug.

Any other questions about the little monsters, I'm happy to oblige - please MeMail me.
posted by Addlepated at 3:44 PM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think if you want full peace of mind you need to unpack and repack your boxes before you move them.

You can stand on a low step stool while you're unpacking the boxes. This will short circuit the omg-it's-coming-right-at-me feeling if something does fall out of your clothes. Make sure the spot where you are is brightly lit and in an open area, they will run towards the walls.

Grab the top of each garment and give it a firm shake. Then refold and repack.
posted by anaelith at 4:30 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another thing you can do is fumigate your stuff before you move. Open up the boxes and use Raid fumigators, which use a dry fog and don't leave a sticky mess behind.
posted by Addlepated at 4:58 PM on June 12, 2012

I live in semi-rural Oklahoma and have dealt with 100% ID'd recluses quite frequently. I'm also glad to say I've never been bit and don't worry about them very much. I've been a lot more cautious during moves, like you, just in case. First off, buy a triplet magnifier and learn to identify them, as Addlepated suggested, to make 100% sure that you're not worrying about a regular house spider. There are a lot of recluse look-alikes, and it's important to be able to correctly ID them. There are some websites that explain how to do this.

That said, I've come to suspect that brown recluses are slightly overrated as far as danger; they seem to be poorly studied, and I've seen a few journal papers that have suggested that it's a bacteria rather than a venom that produces the effects, hence, immunocompromised people might be more at risk. Likewise, most of the reports I've see of brown recluse spider bites are poorly documented and rather speculative, and could very well be skin infections or chemical burns. Who knows. I'm not saying that brown recluses aren't dangerous, but having a bit of personal bias and opinion, I don't worry too much about them much; I just keep my eyes peeled and don't do stupid stuff like reaching into dark corners or put on clothes without shaking them out. All houses I've lived in in Oklahoma and Texas in recent years have had genuine recluses in them, and I've never been bit or had any trouble with them.

As far as moves with potential brown recluses:

1. Wear gloves and work in a brightly lit room.

2. Do as much packing work in a large clean area or outside as you can. Use that area for staging the boxes, so you can inspect for stragglers as the boxes get packed and loaded.

3. All boxes should be taped up thoroughly along ALL seams. Recluses love gaps in cardboard. If they're trapped inside, they'll get out through there, and if they're trapped outside, they'll probably find the gap in a loose box and ride along.

4. Keep careful inventory of the boxes as you go. This means that the boxes with stuff you need will get completely unpacked and inspected at your new house, and you won't be stuck with a bunch of half-opened boxes, which sets up ideal brown recluse hotels. Any spiders in the unpacked boxes will die after several months.

5. Wash as much of your laundry, sheets, and clothes piles as you can, and immediately after drying, fold it up and put that stuff in boxes which get promptly sealed. Nothing to worry about with those boxes; no problems.

6. Any new recluses are much more likely to come in via the gaps, undersides, and interiors of large appliances and furniture. If you can get a friend to help haul those things outside and get them cleaned out, especially on the bottoms and insides, that will help a lot. Recluses will move quickly to hide, so keep alert as you tip items over and open panels. Put those items on the truck or in a "sterile" area.

And as Douglas Adams said, don't panic. A little precaution will go a really long way. Good luck!
posted by crapmatic at 6:20 PM on June 12, 2012

I completely understand your terror as I share it, but my best friend has been living in a very very infested house for three years and never once been bitten. He's found then in clothes, on dressers, in the shower, &c. If that helps give you peace of mind.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:31 PM on June 12, 2012

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