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Articles by Diane Burt

Its bite can kill a horse

Beware the brown recluse.    
    The spiky-legged brown recluse grows as long as three-eighths of an inch. A violin shape marks its back. Its bite is devastating. I know because I’ve seen it firsthand.
    A big, warm-blood, show horse on my Southern Anne Arundel County farm was bitten on the leg by a brown recluse. After more than two months of treatment, she had to be put down.
    In animals and humans alike, the characteristic signs of this spider bite are blistering and swelling at the bite site and surrounding area, followed by skin necrosis and peeling, leaving a deep, exposed area that may need skin grafts to heal. Treatment can go on for weeks, as Philip Angell of Annapolis found out.
    About a decade ago, Angell was tidying up a woodpile in his yard in early May. He wore long pants but only clogs on his feet, allowing a brown recluse to bite him on the ankle. He didn’t know he had been bitten until he noticed a red, hard spot as he was showering. He applied hot compresses until it was time to go out that evening. By the next day, the spot was redder and harder, and by the third day, infection was setting in, prompting an emergency room visit.
    At the hospital, the doctors recognized the spot as a brown recluse bite. The wound was lanced, then drained and scraped, then Angell was put on intravenous antibiotics in the hospital for several days. Before going home, he was fitted with a contraption that he kept on for 10 days, enabling twice-daily drips of antibiotics, each session lasting an hour. The treatments were successful, and today Angell has only a small scar to show for his experience.
    The bite of the brown recluse is distinctive, but it’s best if the spider is seen and captured for identification. Wounds may be wrongly attributed to a snake or black-widow spider, and treatments may vary.
    I found my horse killer in a pile of towels and saddle pads waiting to be laundered, near the horse’s stall. After killing the spider, I slid it into a plastic bag to await identification.
    Sarah Gorczyca of Home Paramount Pest Control confirmed the identification. Encounters seem to be trending, she reports, with calls concerning brown recluses coming in from Edgewater south through Calvert County.
    Maryland is not these spiders’ natural habitat. They concentrate in the central and southern United States but may hitch rides on vehicles.
    Wherever they settle, brown recluses build irregular, loosely constructed nests in dark undisturbed areas. Their nest serves only as a retreat and a place for the female to lay her egg sacs. As their name implies, they are reclusive and do not like to come out of their webs except at night to hunt for food. Thus they may reside in close proximity to people and animals and never cause problems. While not aggressive, they will bite if accidentally touched or pressed against.
    Look for these spiders in shoes and boots, in piles of clothing or laundry lying on the floor, in basements and garages, and under leaves and mulch.
    Human bites remain infrequent. This year, neither Calvert Memorial Hospital in Prince Frederick nor Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis has treated humans bitten by brown recluses. In prior years, both have treated a few, including Angell’s.
    Small animal veterinary clinics have reported a few cases, some very serious. In one home where a dog was bitten, exterminators discovered hundreds of brown recluses nesting in the garage. The dog survived after months of treatment.
    For animals, prevention is difficult. They are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Call the exterminator if a brown recluse is seen.

Today’s oysterman is likely to be a woman — and a farmer rather than a hunter-gatherer

“Everything we did was by trial and error,” recalled Jill Buck of her and husband Andy’s early days as oyster farmers.
    “We filled our cages to the brim with the seeds and put them out in the river,” Jill explained. “When we went back to check on them a few weeks later, the growing oysters had burst out of the cages.”
    Lesson Number One: Spread a thin layer of seeds on the bottom of each cage....

Therapeutic horses make good riders

Riders had their day in the sun at Maryland Therapeutic Riding’s Spring Horse Show.
    Green pastures and paddocks surround an indoor arena as good as you’d see on the hunter/jumper show circuit. Overflow spectators parked along the lane under shady trees. In arena and show ring, volunteers abounded, helping families settle and riders prepare to mount.
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Donald Sheckells: Stuck on oystering

If oystering has been your life for more than 40 years, what do you do when age catches up with you?
    If you’re Donald Sheckells, you’re still working.
    The Shady Side waterman no longer braves winter on the water to harvest oysters. But he’s still shucking and selling them.
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After generations harvesting wild oysters, Chesapeake watermen are learning to raise them

Where have all the nicknames gone?
    Once upon a time you had one — Popeye, Spanky, Hambone — if you were an oysterman working the Bay.
    Nowadays, oystermen are mostly gone, along with their nicknames. In Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, only about a dozen commercial oystermen still work.
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Meet her at Barnes & Noble

Fans of award-winning author Lisa Scottoline have a treat this week. She’s coming to Annapolis for a reading and signing of her latest book, Accused.
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