- The three spiders were in the basement area of the University of Michigan library, which is closed to the public.
- A member of the UM biology department identified the spiders as Mediterranean recluses.
If you ever need a reminder of how feeble we are as a species, consider spiders. They’re small and crushable, but still somehow terrifying. Last week, in Ann Arbor, librarians shut down the library after discovering three Mediterranean spiders in a basement storage area. That may feel like the appropriate reaction when a spider runs across your hand while you’re standing in a basement, but it seems like an over-reaction in this situation.
Nothing wrong with a little over-abundance of caution.
The associate director for the Office of Public Affairs spoke with the Detroit Free Press later in the week. They admitted that there was a miscommunication regarding the library’s closure. The associate director described the move as an “overabundance of caution.”
It seems like the sort of thing where someone could have quietly squashed the spiders with, oh, a book and moved on with their day, but recluse spiders, in particular, are terrifying. The most commonly known variety is the brown recluse, whose bites can cause long-lasting damage and leave painful scars. They’re not aggressive but enjoy dark enclosed spaces, like shoes or clothing. You can inadvertently upset one of them and incur a bite.
For most people, the bites don’t require without medical intervention. But for some, the recluse bite turns into a volcanic legion with necrotic flesh that can take weeks or months to heal. Given that, it’s understandable that the library staff noped right out of the basement when they discovered three spiders.
A recluse by any other name.
The spiders in the campus library were Mediterranean recluse–the European cousin of the more famous brown recluse. They look similar but have a more widespread territory. They’re known as a “tramp species,” insects that spread worldwide because of human commerce.
The library received treatment for spiders while closed and reopened later in the week without further incident. Anne Danielson-Francois, the biology department chair, identified the spiders from specimens caught in glue traps at the library. She recognized them as part of the recluse family at once, having spent time in Kansas, where the spiders are much more widespread.
Check your shoes, Michigan, it’s a brand new day.
Michigan used to be too far north for the recluse, but it’s possible with ongoing climate change that the venomous spider will expand its current territory. The positive identification surprised Danielson-Francois, if only for a moment, “Then you think, ‘Oh, they’re actually pretty cosmopolitan, and they’ve gotten to other buildings and other states,’ so it kind of makes sense.”