DEAR JOAN: I watched a show during the holiday break called "Infested." I don't recommend watching this show -- it causes bad dreams. But one episode was about a family infested with brown recluse spiders.

I searched Google for information and it said, "Despite rumors to the contrary, the brown recluse spider has not established itself in California anywhere outside its native range." However, a couple of months ago we removed a wooden planter box in the yard and found an odd looking spider that had violet and translucent yellow/brown colors. The shape of the body was similar to what you see if you search Google for photos. It was long and violin shaped.

Have you seen this spider? Entomologists say you haven’t. This is a brown recluse spider, which experts say doesn’t live in California.
Have you seen this spider? Entomologists say you haven't. This is a brown recluse spider, which experts say doesn't live in California. (Courtesy of Rich Vetter)

My question: Are there brown recluse spiders in the Bay Area? I work in Foster City but live in Walnut Creek.

Linda A.

Walnut Creek

DEAR LINDA: I'm not sure what the fascination with brown recluse spiders is, but we've definitely got it. The interest, not the spider, that is. I suppose because its bite and venom pack such a punch, we all fear them. But your Google research is correct. Except for a small corner of Death Valley, the recluse has never been spotted anywhere else in California.

There are seven means of identifying a recluse:


Advertisement

  • The violin shape doesn't refer to the shape of the body but to a very distinct violin pattern that appears on the cephalothorax (the part of the body where the legs are attached). The base of the violin is at the head, the fiddle neck points toward the rear of the spider. Just as the black widow spider's red hour glass is distinct, so is the violin on the recluse.

  • If you don't count the legs, their bodies could fit onto a dime with no overlap. They are very small spiders.

  • They have six eyes arranged in pairs with a space separating each pair. Most spiders have eight eyes in two rows of four.

  • The recluse has light-colored legs with no stripes or bands.

  • A brown recluse is, well, brown. It may be dark brown or light brown, depending on what it has eaten, but it will be the same brown throughout, never a mixture of colors.

  • The legs are smooth -- no spines, only fine hairs.

  • They build webs behind objects, never in the open.

    And I would add an eighth way -- if you see one, you're not in California.

    DEAR JOAN: A black phoebe has taken up residence on a wind chime on my back porch. He has been coming every day around dusk and leaving around dawn.

    This caterpillar was photographed in Kruger National Park, South Africa. If you have a photo of wildlife in your backyard or from your travels, please
    This caterpillar was photographed in Kruger National Park, South Africa. If you have a photo of wildlife in your backyard or from your travels, please email a high resolution jpg to jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com. Courtesy of Piet Grobler ( Piet Grobler )

    I have several birdhouses on the porch and deck, but he prefers the wind chime. I have noticed he is not afraid if my dog or I come and go out the door right below where he is perching.

    I worry he is cold, being on metal all night long. I've seen him puff out his feathers. Is that for warmth? Is this normal behavior for this type of bird? This is the first time I have seen this type of bird in my yard.

    Susan M.

    Cyberspace

    DEAR SUSAN: You don't need to worry about the bird getting too cold. It apparently likes your wind chime and it wouldn't stay where if it weren't comfortable. The puffing up of the wings is a way of staying warm. The layers of feathers and down trap warm air inside.

    Don't expect the bird to move into one of your available birdhouses. The black phoebe is not a cavity dweller. Instead, the birds build an open cup mud nest.

    That's why they always are found near water, so they have access to the mud. They also feast on flies and the flying insects found year-round at water sources.

    Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.