Brown recluse spiders on campus

On Aug. 9, Lawrence University’s summer residents received an email from Dean of Students Curt Lauderdale and Human Resources Director Rochelle Blindauer regarding “what appear to be brown recluse spiders in a few buildings, primarily down by facilities close to the water.” The email informed students on how to respond if they came into contact with such a spider. It also assured students that the university was responding to the threat.

The following day, another email sent out by Lauderdale stated, “While sightings of the spiders have been limited, it has been confirmed that brown recluse spiders have been found on campus.” It also stated that “Facilities Services staff are actively working with Wil Kil Pest Control to trap and test the spiders and treat buildings on the west side of campus [Briggs, Steitz, Colman, Brokaw, and the Academy of Music] as needed.”

News of the spiders on campus also reached outside the Lawrence community. On Aug. 11, The Appleton Post Crescent published a relevant article, while Green Bay television station, WBay, had a news report on the matter. On Sept. 14, Associate Vice President of Communications Craig Gagnon ‘76 released the following statement:

“When the spiders were first seen, LU worked with a pest control company to trap and then confirm that these were, in fact, brown recluse spiders. The building was treated and additional traps were set. As a precaution, staff, faculty and summer residents were notified and traps were set in all campus buildings. The Facilities Services building was treated a second time to ensure that the problem was addressed. No other campus buildings were affected, and no other brown recluse spiders have been confirmed on campus.”

The brown recluse spider is also called the fiddleback, or violin spider, because it has a distinct marking on the upper front part of its body that resembles the shape of a violin.

It can also be identified by its six eyes—spiders usually have eight. Such spiders are rare in the Upper Midwest, but are common in central and southern regions of the U.S.

They are generally peaceful and only bite when threatened. According to research, however, their bite “can cause extensive tissue damage,” and in rare cases, “systemic complications such as liver or kidney damage.

”When asked how the spiders got in the facilities building, Gagnon said, “It’s kind of anybody’s guess.” He went on to say that “[Lawrence’s faculty] discovered [the spiders] at the very end of July or the very beginning of August…I don’t know if somebody recognized them, or if they didn’t recognize them and wondered what they were because they are different from what they are accustomed to seeing.”

Responses to warnings about the brown recluse spiders have varied. Gagnon said, “The very first student comment that we got was, ‘They couldn’t be here; you’re frightening us unnecessarily.’”

Junior Emma Arnesen said, “I [had] only seen the Facebook posts over the summer and I wasn’t that worried because it only said they saw a couple sightings.”

Sophomore Emma Swidler said, “I was originally concerned because I didn’t know how much they would actually affect the student body, but after educating myself a little more, I learned that [their bites] can be treated and this was reassuring.”

Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Eric Lewellyn is planning a project in one of his courses to sequence DNA from a brown recluse spider specimen.

In response to how students and staff should react in the future, Arnesen said, “I think the school is doing a good job about being transparent and I think at the same time…that they are warning [about it].” Swidler added, “The more information that they provide from the start, the less room there is for fabrication and people making up rumors.”

Gagnon said, “[If] somebody says, ‘I saw one,’ well they may have misidentified it, but they ought to absolutely assume the worst—not assume the worst and tell the world, [but] assume the worst and tell the people who are going to do something about it.”