The hobo spider (Eratigena agrestis) is a small brown spider native to the Northwest U.S. states. For years it was considered a seriously poisonous spider, joining the black widow and brown recluse as one of three dangerous spider species found in the U.S. Recent evidence, however, indicates that the hobo spider is really not dangerous, and the CDC has even removed it from their list of poisonous species.
Hobo spiders can be hard to distinguish from other species, even for experts, since their appearance can be so varied. Hobo spiders and brown recluse spiders are often mistaken for one another, which is perhaps the reason for their undeserved reputation as poisonous spiders. The hobo spider has a body that is roughly 1/2 inch in length, with legs that are usually no more than 2 inches long, occasionally reaching as much as 3 inches.
It is often identified by ruling out other distinctive markings: The hobo does not have hairless, shiny legs; it does not have dark-colored bands on its legs; it does not have long streaks on its body. One feature the hobo spider does exhibit: It usually has light-colored markings on its abdomen, which are lacking in similar species. Sometimes, these markings take on a chevron (arrow-shaped) pattern. And the hobo spider builds a distinctive funnel-shaped web that is easily identified.
Current thinking is that this outdoor-dwelling, insect-eating spider is largely innocuous. However, if the spider's reputation makes you nervous, or if they become an indoor nuisance, there are several approaches you can take to getting rid of hobo spiders.
5 Ways to Get Rid of Hobo Spiders
With rare exceptions, most spiders are not very troublesome pests, and an occasional spider in the basement or attic is usually doing more good than harm by consuming flies and other insects. Sometimes, though, you may find it necessary to get rid of spiders.
The typical method for getting rid of most bugs—using pesticides or baits—does not work very well for most spiders, which are not insects but rather arachnids that have a different biological makeup. To work on spiders, a pesticide usually needs to saturate the spider thoroughly, and this is no easy feat with a fast-running spider like the hobo. Instead, there are a number of other strategies that are more effective.
Move The Spiders Outdoors
If you can catch these fast-running spiders with a net or cup, they can be moved outdoors, where their insect-catching habits can be useful in a garden or meadow. While no longer considered poisonous, the hobo can bite if threatened, so use caution when catching one.
Crush the Spiders
If the thought of spiders in and around your home is intolerable, it is generally easy enough to swat and crush a hobo spider with a rolled up magazine or newspaper. Scoop up the dead spider with a sheet of paper to dispose of it.
Eliminate Food Sources
A very effective method for controlling spiders in your home is to control the spiders' food sources. If there is no food available, spiders will go elsewhere. Keeping your home free of roaches, houseflies, and other insects will very likely chase away hobo spiders, along with other species of insect-eating arachnids.
Use Sticky Traps
If you locate a hobo spider's distinctive funnel-shaped web, you can set out sticky traps to catch the spiders. Hobo spiders spend most of their time near floor or ground level, so sticky traps set along the floor near a web will often be effective. However, you can expect to catch a variety of insects in your sticky trap, as well.
Vacuum Up the Spiders
When you spot them, most spiders and webs can be sucked up with a vacuum cleaner. The hobo spider is a fast, agile spider, however, so you need to be quick. Just be sure to transfer the vacuum bag contents to a sealed plastic bag for disposal.
What Causes Hobo Spiders
Like all spiders, hobo spiders are drawn to sheltered areas where there are lots of insects and other small creatures to provide food. Hobo spiders are generally an outdoor species, favoring wood piles, rock walls, and other areas where there are hollow cavities well-suited for building their funnel nests. If it ventures into homes, the spider is usually searching for food. Unlike some other spiders, such as the giant house spider, this is a species that shies away from human activity.
How to Prevent Hobo Spiders
Preventing hobo spiders from taking up residence is fairly easy if you keep your home free of houseflies and other insects that serve as food for the hobo. Brushing away cobwebs as they appear—especially if you find the distinctive funnel-shaped webs of the hobo—will keep them from setting up residence.
Also, keep wood, debris, and vegetation away from the house, as deadwood is a natural web and breeding site for hobo spiders. To keep them from entering the home, ensure that all windows and doors are well-sealed and caulk the cracks and gaps where the spiders—and other bugs—can enter.
There are many natural predators of spiders, and landscaping in a manner that encourages bug-eating birds, lizards, and toads will help control outdoor populations of spiders.
Hobo Spiders vs. Brown Recluse Spiders
The hobo spider is sometimes mistaken for the brown recluse, a similar-looking species that is legitimately dangerous. Like the hobo, the brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa), is a brown spider with softly furry legs. The size is similar to that of the hobo, though brown recluse spiders are sometimes slightly larger, with bodies up to 3/4 inch. Upon close examination, the recluse lacks the coloration patterns on the abdomen, and the back often has a pattern that is shaped like a violin (another common name for this spider is the fiddleback). Both spiders favor the same habitat (woodpiles, rock heaps, dry dark areas), but the webs or brown recluse spiders are irregular constructions, not the well-defined funnels woven by hobo spiders.
The native range of the brown recluse begins in Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana and runs south, so your geographic location alone may be a strong hint as to whether you are seeing a hobo or brown recluse spider.
Where Do I Find Hobo Spiders?
Hobo spiders have been reported in the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Utah. Its range seems to be spreading, and it is possible it will eventually be found in other states.
Whether the hobo spider sets up a home indoors or out, it is generally found near the ground or floor level. Outdoors, the hobo spider hides in retaining walls, foundations, window wells, and stacks of firewood and bricks. Indoors, it is found in boxes, piles, or other storage, under baseboard heaters or radiators, behind furniture, and in closets.
The spider builds funnel webs in holes, cracks, and recesses. A funnel web, as the name implies, resembles a funnel with one end wider than the other flattened end. It is built horizontally on the ground or into piles, or attached to stationary structures near the ground.
Can You Die From a Hobo Spider Bite?
Despite its longstanding reputation, the hobo spider is no longer considered seriously venomous by experts. There are no verified cases of death from a hobo spider bite, and reaction to bites is almost never serious. Most authorities believe that reports of serious bites from hobo spiders were likely the work of other species, especially the brown recluse spider. Reports of tissue death (necrosis) from hobo spider bites now seem to be entirely mistaken. In response to the scientific findings, the CDC deleted the hobo spider from its list of venomous spiders in 2017.
What Happens When You're Bitten?
The initial bite from a hobo spider usually seems to cause only a slight prick or stinging sensation, with minor skin irritation that follows. In some people, there may be more substantial pain, as well as nausea and fatigue. Rarely, an individual may be seriously allergic to the mild venom of this spider, requiring quick medical attention if throat swelling or trouble breathing develops.
Effects seem to disappear within 12 hours or so. While there have been anecdotal reports of some bites leading to tissue death (necrosis) at the bite site, there is no evidence that substantiates this, and most medical experts now discount such stories. While other spiders have been known to introduce bacteria through their bites, there is no evidence that hobo spiders are capable of this.
How Do I Treat a Hobo Spider Bite?
Any suspected spider bite should be immediately cleaned, then watched for signs of infection or serious allergic reaction. It is rare that the bite will require medical attention.