Wanted: Gary Howard, hobo killer. Not that the Lolo resident is hard to find—he’s in the Yellow Pages, under Bugmaster, and he’s worn out. Five warm winters have triggered a population boom of cold-averse hobo spiders, which first appeared in Montana about 10 years ago, and Howard’s been working 14-hour days, six days a week, spraying homes in hopes of controlling the explosion of aggressive, poisonous house spiders.
“It’s beyond being good for business,” says Howard of the hobos’ rampant growth. “It’s getting ridiculous. They’re like the British. They just keep coming.”
But if we continue to experience the hard freeze temperatures of late, Howard (along with the rest of us who’ve found funnel webs beneath our beds, or spotted golf ball-sized hobos cruising across our living rooms) might be getting a reprieve. He says a couple weeks of below-zero temps should kill off a portion of the adult spiders. Still, after five consecutive winters of hobo-friendly warming, it will take more than one frigid winter to really bring the numbers down.
“We used to see five or 10 hobos in a house,” says Howard. “Now we’ll see 100. That’s just too much for a poisonous spider.” Spraying the outer foundation of a home, he might see 30-50 hobos running within a 10-foot space. Even if this cold snap does last long enough to kill off the grown-ups, they’ve already laid their eggs, “and they can hatch any time,” says Howard. “They can hatch in the spring.”
So from now until March, when hatching season starts, we can pray for cold and mull these stats: Last season, Howard saw about eight hobo-bite victims whose necrosis required surgery to cut out the affected flesh. He sees 20-30 people per year on antibiotics for hobo bites, while others whose homes he visits suffer just “dry bites,” when the spider injects little venom. But “for the amount of spiders, and the amount of bites,” says Howard, the incidence of bad bites is “really low.” If only it were absolute zero.