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Monmouth professor studies how cold affects brown recluse spiders

A Monmouth biology professor is hoping this winter's extremes haven't killed off a local population of brown recluse spiders. Ken Cramer has been studying the arachnids for 12 years. Research he co-authored on the distribution of brown recluses in Illinois and Iowa is currently featured in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

Cramer says very little has been written about brown recluses since the 60's, so he's hoping his work will shed some light on them.

"They're very notorious. There's a lot written about them. A lot of it's not true. So there's the possibility of educating the public about where they actually occur and what the likelihood of getting a serious bite is," And then even beyond that, just looking into it, I thought,'Well, you know, people must have studied these a lot because they're medically important.' But in fact they haven't. The venom has been studied a lot, but the actual behavior and basic biology of recluses hasn't been."

Cramer currently studies a wild population he found in a colleague's garage, and catches spiders for his lab in the same colleague's basement.

His past research shows recluses in the lab can't survive at temperatures lower than 23 degrees, but he thinks they might be more resiliant in the wild.

"They're really had to get rid of anyway. There's so much of what pest control people call harborage, where they can hide from pesticides. And when they walk around, they kind of walk around on their tip toes, so they don't pick up pesticides very well. So you physically would have to spray them individually directly."

Cramer says he'll still have to wait until about April for warmer temperatures to see if they come out.

To learn more or contact Cramer about a recluse or send him a speciman, visit his project page on Monmouth College's website.

(photo by Ken Cramer)