The Truth About Brown Recluse Spiders in New England: Myths vs. Reality

Everyone seems to know someone who has encountered the feared brown recluse spider, but if they live in New England, it’s much more likely that they’ve seen a lookalike rather than the real deal. So, which states actually have brown recluse spiders?

Where Brown Recluse Spiders Live

Brown recluse spiders inhabit a range from Southeastern Nebraska to Southwestern Ohio and Georgia into Texas. Related species are found in pockets of the Southwestern United States, but it is very rare for any of these species to be found outside their native range. Exceptions occur when spiders hitchhike via moving boxes or packages, but they do not establish populations in new territories. Brown recluse spiders require hot, dry weather to survive, making New England’s notoriously opposite weather inhospitable to these spiders.

How to Identify a Brown Recluse

Brown recluse spiders (Loxosceles reclusa), also known as the fiddleback spider, brown fiddler, or violin spider, have a violin-shaped marking on their cephalothorax (the head/upper body region of a spider). However, this marking can be difficult to detect on younger spiders, and other common household spiders, like cellar spiders, often have similar markings. The most definitive way to identify a brown recluse is by its eyes: they have six eyes arranged in three pairs—one pair in the front and one on each side. Females have a leg span of about 1 inch, while males reach about ½ inch.

Commonly Misidentified Spiders in New England

While New England does not host brown recluse spiders, a few naturally occurring species are frequently misidentified as such:

Long-Bodied Cellar Spider (Pholcus phalangioides)
Long-bodied cellar spiders are often mistaken for brown recluses due to the presence of a dark marking on their cephalothorax and their light brown coloring. However, these spiders have eight eyes, a less robust figure, and are often visible in corners, waiting for prey. Their venom is not medically significant to humans.

Woodlouse Spider (Dysdera crocata)

Woodlouse spiders have an intimidating appearance but pose no threat to humans. They do have six eyes like the brown recluse, but these are closely grouped and arranged in an almost circular formation. Their cephalothorax is a rusty-red color with no markings.

Wolf Spider (Lycosidae)

Wolf spiders are light-dark brown to best camouflage in their natural environment. They have eight eyes arranged in three rows, which can reflect light, giving the appearance of “glowing” eyes. Though their size can be frightening, they generally do not bite unless provoked. Their bites are not medically significant.

What About Bites?

Many people report being bitten by brown recluse spiders in their sleep but often cannot produce a photograph or specimen for identification, making these claims difficult to confirm.

Bite Misidentification

Your doctor isn’t an arachnologist. Identifying spiders can be difficult even for experts, and misidentification is common. Reactions to bites can vary, and without a clear photograph or specimen, a doctor can only guess what may have bitten you. Many reported “spider bites” have proven to be infected punctures, often with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas (MRSA), a type of staph infection that can cause necrotizing fasciitis. Medical professionals may incorrectly attribute these infections to spiders.

Spider Bites Are Rare

Few spider species are truly aggressive. Most would rather run and hide than attack humans. Only about seven people per year in the U.S. are killed by spider bites, and quick medical intervention dramatically reduces any risk. Brown recluse spiders, true to their name, prefer to be left alone and do not seek to bite humans unless they feel threatened.

Venomous Spiders in New England

The only medically significant spider native to New England is the Northern Black Widow (Latrodectus variolus). While its bite requires medical attention, it is not typically fatal to healthy adults, and the vast majority of patients recover completely within 24-28 hours of envenomation.

Joro Spiders

You may have heard news stories about large, venomous, “flying” spiders poised to take over the East Coast, but how true is this? Joro spiders are an invasive species that was accidentally introduced to North America from East Asia on cargo ships in 2013. They have been spreading up the East Coast ever since, and may reach New England in the next decade or so.

While they make an enticing, clickable headline, the spiders themselves are no threat. Joro spiders do not bite without significant provocation and their venom is not medically significant to humans. Their preferred defense when they feel threatened is to “freeze”.  One study revealed that even a blowing a “light puff of air” is a significant enough stressor to cause them to freeze for over an hour.

As for their “flight”, these spiders use a technique called ballooning when they are young to spread across new territories. Tiny spiderlings release a strand of silk and wait for the wind to catch them and take them to their new home. Adults are too heavy for this technique and stay in one place for most of their life.

What to Do If You Have Spiders in Your Home

If you believe you have a brown recluse or other venomous spider in your home, avoid disturbing it and do not attempt to remove it alone. Take a clear photograph and send it to our staff entomologists at to confirm the identification. Most spiders in this region are harmless and consume household pests, so it’s best to leave them alone if possible. If their presence is too distressing, contact Modern Pest Services for targeted, effective spider treatment for your home.