Spiders

A large variety of spiders are found throughout Canberra, with the most common being the Red-back Spider, Funnel-web Spider, Black House Spider and the White-tailed Spider.

Red-back Spider

The Red-back spider (Lactrodectus hasselti) is a potentially dangerous spider found throughout most of Australia particularly in urban and suburban areas.

The female Red-back has a round body about a centimetre long, with long, slender legs. The body is a deep black colour, often (but not always) containing a red line or small red dots on the abdomen.

The male Red-back is three to four millimetres long and is light brown in colour with white markings on the upper side of the abdomen.

A successful bite from a female Red-back injects a neurotoxin into the blood stream. Individuals bitten often describe the bite as extremely painful. Despite this (and in contrast to common belief in Australia) deaths from the Red-back have been rare: A single death has been reported since the introduction of antivenin in 1956. It is, however, recommended to seek medical attention following a bite. This is particularly true for children, the elderly or those with serious medical conditions since the bite could be much more life threatening to these groups.

Contrary to common belief, bites from male Red-back spiders are also occasionally dangerous. About 250 people are bitten each year across Australia. Since the female Red-back is slow moving and rarely leaves its web, most bites occur as a result of a person placing a hand or other body part too close to the web, such as reaching into dark holes, wall cavities and letter boxes.

Red-backs, along with Funnel Web spiders are the most dangerous types of spiders in Australia.

Funnel-web

Funnel-web spiders are very dangerous spiders native to the east coast of Australia and are responsible for at least 13 deaths.

These spiders are medium-to-large in size, with body lengths ranging from 1cm to 5cm. They are darkly coloured, ranging from black to brown, with a glossy carapace covering the front part of the body. These spiders have large poison glands fangs which point straight down, do not cross each other and are large and powerful. Although they are small, they should not be handled because their fangs have been known to penetrate fingernails and soft shoes, resulting in dangerous bites.

The primary range of the Australasian Funnel-web spiders is the eastern coast of Australia, with specimens found in New South Wales, South Australia, and Queensland.

They frequently search for a place to nest under human dwellings, or under nearby rocks, logs, or other similar objects. They are most active at night, can move quickly across the ground, are aggressive, often bite repeatedly and has a powerful venom known to cause death within 15 minutes for small children.

Males, recognised by the modified terminal segment of the palp, are aggressive and tend to wander in search of females at night in summer rain. They are attracted to water and hence are often found in swimming pools where they have fallen while so engaged. They also show up in garages and yards in suburban areas.

Black House Spider

The black house spider (Badumna insignis) is a common species of Australian spider. It lives in most areas of Australia and it prefers urban habitat. Its web is a messy-looking construct of triangular sail-like shapes, usually stretched in the corner of the walls, windows etc. Somewhere in the web is a funnel-shaped entrance to the nest, where the spider spends most of its time waiting for prey. It is this feature that gets the Black House spider confused with a very aggressive and venomous Sydney Funnel-web spider. These two spiders do not have similar appearance, size or usual habitat (funnel webs live on the ground, house spiders high up), and the confusion is simply due to panic and inexperience.

The black house spider is venomous, but is not considered dangerous to humans, except for possible infection of the bite. They are quite shy, only coming out of the nest to capture their prey and then quickly retreat.

White-tailed Spider

White-tailed spiders are a medium-sized spider found in southern and eastern Australia, so named because of the whitish tips at the end of their abdomens. The eastern and southern species are the most common species, both are similar in shape and colour.

Its bite has been implicated in cases of necrotising arachnidism, though the link is controversial. Recent studies monitoring over 100 cases had no such incidents, leaving research to believe that such cases are rare rather than a common outcome from a White-tail spider bite.

White-tailed spiders can be found sheltering under clothes on the floor and bedding. Care should be taken to avoid leaving clothes lying around and check bedding at night.

 

References

CSIRO - Redback Spider

CSIRO - Funnel-web Spider

Australian Museum - Black House Spider

CSIRO - White-tailed Spider

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