Recluse Spiders at University of Michigan Cause Brief Library Closure

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Late last month, Anne Danielson-Francois, an associate biology professor at the University of Michigan, received an unusual package. She had instructed the sender to make sure the contents — spiders — were cushioned because she did not want their legs to break off.

When Dr. Danielson-Francois opened the little brown box, there they were — a male spider stuck on a glue trap, two female spiders suspended in an alcohol solution, and a few juvenile spiders.

Dr. Danielson-Francois, who works at the university’s Dearborn campus, had been enlisted by university officials as a sort of spider-buster. Last month, pest management teams found that unfamiliar spiders had moved into the basement of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library on the Ann Arbor campus, a space fewer people were visiting because of the coronavirus pandemic, the university said.

Her job: Identify the arachnids and report back.

Dr. Danielson-Francois usually studies another type of spider, a giant nephila, or orb-weaving spider. But she probed the desiccated body of the male, examined its genitalia, consulted taxonomic literature, noted its six eyes and arrived at a conclusion: Mediterranean recluse spiders were occupying the library basement.

Some spiders were also found in the Stearns Building on the university’s North Campus, The Michigan Daily, a student newspaper, reported this week. Ms. Broekhuizen said that recluse spiders were found in about a dozen academic buildings on the Ann Arbor campus, which has roughly 300 buildings. None were found in residence halls.

“Due to the pandemic, these are almost all low-occupancy buildings as the university prioritized social distancing, reduced density and increased cleaning in all of our facilities,” she said in an email on Thursday.

Recluse spiders are aptly named. They like to be alone, and generally stay away from places where there is foot traffic, instead choosing to crawl around in basements or wherever they can find a crevice.

Dr. Danielson-Francois said in an interview on Thursday that people were unlikely to encounter them “unless you are the unfortunate plumber who has to go into a crawl space.” If they do bite, she said, it “might be a dry bite.”

“They do not see you as a prey item,” she added. “They don’t want to consume you. It’s more of a defense.”

The episode generated minor tremors on campus. On the Facebook page Overheard at UMich, students commented on The Michigan Daily’s coverage. “That’s insane lol,” one student wrote. “Makes me glad I don’t go on campus.”

The University of Michigan Library sought to address concerns, saying in a statement on Tuesday that another spider had just been caught that day at the Shapiro Undergraduate Library, but that “their presence in a mechanical room doesn’t pose risks to library patrons.”

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