Attack of the recluses

For a semiarid patch of land that at first looks dormant if not barren most of the year—at least compared to my vision of a jungle alive with the nervous rustle and chattering of monkeys and birds—our ranch is in fact teeming with critters though not many large or colorful ones that would make you reach for your camera. Occasionally a purple finch or vermilion flycatcher will flit by, or a tiny colorful snake quietly sneak under the door, but it seems as if most of the birds and terrestrial animals around here were designed to blend in with the nondescript brownness that hovers over the landscape most of the year.

Still. During the rainy season enough insects, birds, carnivores and other fellow travelers come out of the ground, or somewhere, however briefly, to remind you this land is hardly devoid of life. After dark, dozens of small toads gather up in the front patio, a throaty chorale forever rehearsing but never quite hitting a tune. Rabbits hop past the headlights of cars, rushing to an appointment somewhere. V-shaped flyers swoop by too, either swallows or bats of some sort. Tiny mice gather up in the outdoor light fixtures or any protected spot such as the folds of the awnings over the terrace. And during a full moon the volume goes up, way up, as farm animals, joined by dogs and coyotes, spend the night exchanging messages of love, warning or just mindless noise.

It’s the animals hidden in the ground that we’ve grown to fear, particularly because they are prone to attack our four dogs: snakes, scorpions, and most recently venomous spiders.

A small rattler, about two feet long, bit Lucy, our biggest dog, about six months ago and gave her a golf ball-sized lump on the right side of her nose that took a couple of weeks to clear up. There seems to be some learning curve developing though: Lucy has lost most of her appetite for chasing rats or digging up animals that pop up or down out of holes in the ground.

The Brown Recluse Spider is about two inches long.
The vet called it a Violin Spider, for the mark on its
head resembling a violin. 

Two days ago it was Gladys’ turn to get bit, this time by a venomous Brown Recluse Spider, which are not particularly aggressive unless a dog or other intruder sticks their nose or paw in the hole where they live. We found Gladys on the garage floor, motionless and bleeding from one paw. Off to an animal clinic, where two young vets quickly and accurately diagnosed the problem.

Snake bites, they explained, leave two punctures but spiders only one. The site of the bite by this type of spider develops necrosis, where the venom essentially kills living tissue. The venom spreads quickly up the leg, which swells almost immediately, and into the body, where it can kill the animal in short order. If we hadn’t hauled Gladys to vet immediately we believe she would have gone into shock and died.

Fauna vs Fauna: Gladys got bit on the
 right leg. The mark on her left leg
is where the vet inserted the IV. 

Our affection for Gladys certainly doesn’t stem from her looks. She is the muttiest of mutts and displays no pedigree or other distinguishing traits except “quadruped” and “dog.” We found her on a parking lot in town, frantically fleeing from something or someone, with a piece of rope still hanging from her neck. When we finally seduced her with food and a plastic box to keep her out of the rain, she became the most loyal pet. Too loyal perhaps because initially she wouldn’t let any strangers or other dogs come near us.

Gladys probably was either hit by a car or beaten by her previous owners because her rear drive train doesn’t quite work smoothly and her tail is permanently down and crooked to the left.

I told you she wasn’t much to look at. But her imperfections, and affection, are precisely what have endeared her to us.

The vets scraped the dead skin on one of her toes, and made two incisions that they used to force out the venom—a mix of blood and a gelatinous fluid they called “bad blood”—by gently massaging her leg downward. After a couple of days in the clinic and a number of these treatments, the swelling has gone down and Gladys is home and starting to walk again. She’s still on antibiotics and a bit lethargic.

For Gladys—and us—the moral of this near-miss should be not to be fooled by the apparent lack of wildlife in the desert or stick our noses or hands in front of it when we run accross it. We’ve learned that. We hope Gladys did too and passes on the warning to her canine compadres.


8 thoughts on “Attack of the recluses

  1. Anonymous

    Gladys has a sweet little face,I like her.I am glad she will be ok,very nasty.We live in the south oakangan of bc canada,small desert area,on our daily town news blog this am was a pic and info of the brown recluse,warning they are out and about for those sticking hands in dubious areas.we also have rattle snakes here to watch for,always something no matter where you live!


  2. She's looking better everyday but tomorrow I'll take her to the vet just to be sure everything is alright. She's also getting old and bit chunky, so maybe that's the reason for the lack of


  3. My mother has been bitten by the brown recluse's cousin, the hobo spider. Different name, but same result.Your beautiful view seems to come with a wildlife bill. But, then, I guess mine does, as well.


  4. This is good to know. We seem to have black widows aplenty, but haven't seen any brown recluse yet. Am certain the campo where the dogs run and play is full of them. Good to know the symptoms. I do hope Ms Gladys is better soon.


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