Substitute teacher Diane Barger researches spiders found in her home

Despite her fear of spiders, Barger has helped her family collect over 2,000

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Abby Layton, JagWire A&E editor

As she swishes around a plastic vial of alcohol, substitute teacher Diane Barger studies the female brown recluse spider within. This brown recluse spider is one of 2,000 that Barger, her husband and her two kids have caught over a span of 14 years.

When the family first noticed the spiders in their home, despite Diane’s fear of spiders, they kept them for research, instead of simply killing them and throwing them away.

The reason for keeping the venomous spiders, according to Diane, was so the family could learn more about the spiders that were invading their home.“We learned everything we could so we didn’t have to worry they would fall from the ceiling or attack us in our sleep,” Diane said via email. “I kept a live [brown recluse spider] in a vial by the sink so I would have to look at it multiple times a day to help me get over my fear.”

According to Diane’s son, Dr. Bradley Barger, the family had bought their house having no idea about the inhabitants already living there.

“We had always noticed spiders in the house, but nothing out of the ordinary,” Bradley said via email. “After being involved with brown recluse research for several years and going on nightly ‘spider hunts,’ my family had collected over 2,000 brown recluse specimens.”

Eventually, the Journal of Medical Entomology published the information Diane had collected about brown recluse spiders. Soon after that, her family gained attention from the media and research universities like the University of California Riverside.

“The data we collected and the resulting paper turned out to be ground breaking in not only the arachnology world, but also the medical field,” Diane said. “After my family and I collected 2,055 [spiders] in a six month period with no bites, it made people in lots of different fields take notice that maybe [they] weren’t aggressive and weren’t as scary as everyone had thought.”

Despite her fear of spiders, and the struggle it was to overcome that fear, Diane ultimately made the decision not to move because of her love of the house and the knowledge she gained from the spiders.

“[My family and I] love the history of the house and the land we live on,” Diane said. “We had a battle to win against the spiders. Just because we knew they were there now wasn’t going to make them come out of the woodwork and attack us.”

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