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Around the Web on Eight Legs

November 09, 2000|ROBERT BURNS | robert.burns@latimes.com

You know when you sort of half wake up in the middle of the night because it felt like something's crawled over your face? It probably has. 'Tis the season of the spider. Trust us, they're all over your house.

Today we'll Web crawl with arachnids. They have eight legs, remember, so try to keep up.

First, the good news. UC Riverside's department of entomology (http://www.entomology.ucr.edu/information/spiders) informs--actually, screams at--us that the poisonous and widely feared brown recluse spider does not live in California. DOES NOT, get it? Researcher Rick Vetter's rant is comforting, in a red-in-the-face, about-to-have-an-aneurysm sort of way.

Vetter blames the brown recluse hysteria on sensationalist media and misdiagnoses from the medical community. Guess we won't be attending the anti-spider rally in Westwood this weekend.

There's even a "Brown Recluse Challenge," where Vetter will identify spiders that misinformed people think might be the nonexistent brown recluse. Please, send them directly to UC Riverside.

Of course the caveat--and there's always one--is that there is a "desert" recluse that lives in the southeast portion of the state. In a run-down trailer making meth, no doubt.

Information about the most venomous spider in North America, the black widow (which does live in California, OK?) can be found at Desert USA (http://www.desertusa.com/july97/du_bwindow.html). The site tells us, "Cold weather and drought may drive these spiders into buildings." Is this an upside to higher natural gas prices?

One of the best lists of spider links is at Arachnology (http://www.ufsia.ac.be/Arachnology/Pages/Araneae.html), at the University of Antwerp's Web site (which is not in California). And it's in English.

There we came across the hobo spider. It's another venomous spider, this time in the Pacific Northwest. And get this, it's aggressive. And it comes inside. In fact, people get bitten in their beds. To avoid bites in your sleep, you should keep bed linens at least 8 inches above the floor so they can't climb up. We'd suggest a ring of fire, but then we're probably just overly sensitive about what gets in our bed. You can find out more about the hobo at the Oregon Department of Agriculture (http://www.oda.state.or.us/Plant/ppd/old%20spider/spider.html) and read some chilling encounter tales at http://www.hobospider.com/stories/hobostory.html.

The hobo spider, a native of Western Europe, is thought to have entered the U.S. in the 1920s or '30s through the Port of Seattle, probably as egg cases attached to shipments. It has spread as far east as Idaho, and in the 1990s hobo spiders were confirmed as far south as Utah. Its bite resembles that of the brown recluse, which, as you know, does not exist in California.

Australia, which has more things that can kill you than a tobacco shop, also has some of the spookiest spiders. Discovery.com takes you on a spider expedition with the American Museum of National History at http://www.discovery.com/exp/spiders/spiders.html. Rest assured that these spiders are not in California.

But enough about the poisonous spiders. Even though any spider found in our house ends up on the business end of a rolled-up magazine, we know they're not all bad.

In fact, spiders used to be considered good luck. At Lucky Mojo (http://www.luckymojo.com/spider.html) there's an early 20th century good-luck postcard featuring a spider. The ancient Romans used to carry around little gold and silver spiders, and in England, spiders were thought to attract money.

The University of Arizona (http://spiders.arizona.edu/salticidae/salticidae.html) has extensive information on jumping spiders, which have four big eyes and four little eyes. That's probably why the site tells us, "Jumping spiders are charming spiders that look up and watch you." And they do look personable. Check the photo at http://spiders.arizona.edu/nasaltshome.html. The little fella seems to be smiling.

There have been spiders in space too. And they knew better than to be part of "Starship Troopers." You can see NASA's little arachnauts at http://www.seds.org/~spider/animals/sp_space.html.

Some great diagrams and other information are at World of Spiders (http://www.thesnake.org/spiders.html). Did you know that ticks--which, unlike the brown recluse, are found in California--are related to spiders?

The biggest of the spiders, the tarantulas, are sometimes kept as pets. You can find more information about them in the wild and in captivity at the American Tarantula Society (http://www.atshq.org), the Tarantula's Burrow (http://www.arachnophiliac.com/burrow/spiders.htm) and Tarantulas.com (http://www.tarantulas.com).

There are plenty of tarantulas in California, but there are no brown recluse spider populations. Just thought you should know.

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Robert Burns is an assistant business editor of The Times.

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