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TAKING ACTION: How to identify a brown recluse spider

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - After WHNT News 19 confirmed brown recluse spiders bit two Huntsville firefighters, prompting a fire station to temporarily close, we are taking action to help you identify the pests if they're in your home.

Shawn Levie, ATEC Pest Control General Manager, said it's not uncommon for people to come into their office and say they have been bitten by the pests.

He said the spiders often come out to hunt at night. He said they're not social so you won't see them in groups.

Mostly, he said they lurk in dark (and often moist) areas like in attics, under beds, inside closets, and occasionally crawlspaces.

"A good word of advice is when you pick up your shoes, just kind of shake them," Levie said. He said shoes, especially those kept in garages or outdoors, are popular spider lurking spots. Also, check old coats before you wear them every season.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Brown recluse spiders are known for the fiddle-shaped pattern on their backs. There is a clearly defined "neck" to the mark they possess, as you can see in the image to the left. More identification tips can be found here or with a local pest control expert.

But it may be hard to spot these spiders in your home. He explained the spiders live true to their name, "recluse." They don't seek out humans.

"They try to stay away from people. That's their nature," he noted, stating the spiders are not aggressive. Instead, they bite in defense if you bump them, step on them, or otherwise bother them where they are hiding and they come in contact with your skin. Levie mentioned an example where you may put on a shoe or shirt in which one has been hiding.

The bites have the potential to be dangerous. Levie said they may not easily be felt, but later you'll "see a bullseye look" to a bite. Later, "It will have a warm heat to it," he explained. He said if you suspect you've been bitten, you should seek medical attention immediately.

The venom, in some cases, can be necrotic and kill the tissue surrounding it. It can create wounds on your body and you may exhibit other symptoms as defined here at the CDC website.

There is no season for peak brown recluse sightings, Levie said. Instead, they hang out year round, and are mostly found outdoors.

"You can find them any time of year," he noted.

If you aren't sure if there are brown recluse spiders in your home, he recommended leaving out glue traps, or sticky traps, to see if you catch any. Leave them along baseboards in dark closets, along which they may travel when they hunt at night.

To get rid of a known brown recluse problem in your home or business, Levie said you should contact an expert. These pest control experts will know what type of product to use, what kind of treatment to place, and where to put it.

Even if you have spiders but aren't sure what kind they are, "I would have it checked out by a professional," he said, "because people sometimes mislabel a spider. They'll think it's a garden spider. Or, they'll think a garden spider is a brown recluse."

Levie said brown recluses can be controlled in a building, but it will be hard to get rid of them entirely. They're hard to find and hatch quickly, making it difficult to eradicate them once there is an infestation.