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Experts confirm brown recluse spider hitching ride to Alaska, but there’s no need to panic

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 1:35 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2021 at 11:47 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - You won’t find a brown recluse spider in the wild in Alaska. They just can’t survive our climate, but that didn’t stop one from hitching a ride here inside a U-Haul from Kansas. Experts say it’s the first confirmed case of this happening in our state.

“There’s stories, but it has never been confirmed,” said Keith Burgess, a local spider enthusiast who runs the Facebook page, Spiders of Alaska. “They’ve always been something else, misidentifications. This one is the first one. It’s so far from its natural habitat that it is absurd.”

University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor of Entomology Derek Sikes also confirmed the spider’s identity.

The brown recluse is a species native to the south-central and Midwestern United States. Although it’s rare, the venom released in a bite from the brown recluse can sometimes cause serious wounds, according to a study by Michael F. Potter, an extension entomologist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, which noted that “infestations should be taken seriously.”

Burgess said a woman named Amy Mayfield was moving her mother up to Alaska from Kansas. When they arrived, she noticed the spider had stowed away inside a family painting. This particular spider has now found a new home with Burgess, joining his collection of other non-Alaskan spiders that he keeps contained safely inside his home.

“So now I’ve got a new friend. I actually had a contest over the weekend for naming him, and the new name is Stowaway Steve,” Burgess said. “I’ll gladly take it in. My spider adventures started years ago with one jumping spider and it turned into me housing brown recluse and black widows.”

But there’s no need to panic. Burgess said this is an extremely rare occurrence. Just because this one made it up here doesn’t mean it has its run of the land, as it can’t survive here in the wild.

“If I were to just let one out here, it would be dead very, very fast. The climate is totally different,” Burgess said. “I mean, we have similar temperatures as where they’re found, but it’s the climate. It’s different. We’ve got harsher nights, we’ve got frost, the insects that we have are a lot smaller, so they don’t have a good food supply. They’re just not built for this.”

However, Burgess said there’s another type of brown spider that’s considered harmless that is native to Alaska that often gets mistaken for brown recluse.

“A lot of people misidentify the Tegenaria Domestica, which is the common barn funnel weaver here in Alaska for a Loxosceles Reclusa because they look very similar,” Burgess said. “But the markings on the carapace of the Tegenaria Domestica are kind of backwards, so it’s lighter in spots where it should be darker, and darker in spots where it should be lighter, and they’re very hairy.”

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