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Get to know the Redback Spider

(Latrodectus hasselti)

Redback Spider

Appearance

  • Female Redback spiders are black (sometimes brownish) with an obvious orange/red stripe on the upper abdomen.
  • The males’ red markings are often less distinct. The body is light brown with white markings on the upper side of the abdomen.
  • Juveniles have additional white markings on the abdomen. Females have a body about the size of a large pea with slender legs.
  •  Size range 10 mm (female); 3 mm – 4 mm (male)

Life cycle

  • Once the female has mated, she can store sperm and use it over a period of up to two years to lay several batches of eggs.
  • She spends much time producing up to ten round egg sacs (1cm diameter), which are white, changing to brown over time.
  • Each egg sac contains approximately 250 eggs. Only 1-3 weeks need to pass before more eggs can be laid. These sacs are suspended within the web.
  • The young spiderlings hatch in 2-4 weeks.
  • Spiderlings are cannibalistic and will eat unhatched eggs and other spiderlings.
  • The spiderlings scatter by ballooning to another suitable nest site on long silk threads that are caught by air/the wind.
  • Females mature in about four months. Females may live for 2-3 years, whereas males only live for about 6-7 months.
  • The smaller male matures in about 90 days.

Habitat

  • Redback spiders are found Australia-wide and will live almost anywhere as long as there is enough food, a sheltered web site and is warm enough for breeding. They are especially common in urban areas.
  • The Redback spider favours close proximity to human habitation, with webs being built in dry, sheltered sites, such as among rocks, in logs, shrubs, junk-piles, sheds, pot plants or toilets.
  • Redback spiders are less common in the winter months.
  • Redback Spiders eat other insects but have been known to capture larger animals, such as male trapdoor spiders, king crickets and small lizards, if they become entangled in the web.

Good – The Redback spider is beneficial to the environment as they control the numbers of other pests such as cockroaches, earwigs and millipedes.

Danger to humans and first aid

Although they are beneficial to the environment, Redback bites occur frequently to humans, particularly over the summer months. However, since Redback spiders rarely leave their webs, humans are not likely to be bitten unless the web is disturbed. More than 250 cases receive antivenom each year, with several milder bites probably going unreported. Only the female bite is dangerous.
Common early symptoms are pain (which can become severe), sweating (including local sweating at bite site), muscular weakness, nausea and vomiting. Antivenom is available. No deaths have occurred since its introduction.
Apply an ice pack to the bitten area to relieve pain. Do not apply a pressure bandage (venom movement is slow and pressure worsens pain). Collect the spider for positive identification. Seek medical attention.

Get to know the Daddy-long-legs Spider

(Pholcus phalangioides)

Daddy-long-legs Spider

Appearance

  • Daddy-long-legs spiders are well-known for their extremely long, skinny legs and small body. They are cream to pale brown in colour. Some species have darker markings on their legs and abdomen.
  • Body Length for a male is 16mm, Female body length is 20mm to 50mm.

Life cycle

  • The male spiders reach the reproduction age in one year and usually die after mating, the female can live for about 3 years.
  • Daddy long-legs spiders’ cam breed throughout the year.
  • Female lays about 20 to 30 eggs, which are clumped together with a few strands of silk. The mother then carries this clumped mass of eggs in between her jaw.
  • The eggs are attached to the web. It takes about 2 – 3 weeks for the eggs to hatch, and the young spiderlings are also carried by their mother in between her jaw. The spiderlings have to go through a series of molts, during which they shed their skin, after several moltings, they finally reach adulthood. They leave their mother when they master the skill of catching preys.

Habitat

  • The Daddy-long-legs spider is found throughout Australia. It is a cosmopolitan species that originates from Europe and was introduced accidently into Australia.
  • Daddy-long-legs spiders are found in most urban areas, in particular houses. They make a thin, tangled web in sheltered positions were they are unlikely to be disturbed, such as under furniture, behind doors, in the corner of the ceilings, in sheds, in garages and under decks. Its successful use of these human-made structures has made it one of the most common spiders in Australia.
  • If the Daddy-long-legs Spider is disturbed in the web it responds by setting up a very fast, spinning motion, becoming a blur to anyone watching.

Good – The Daddy-long-legs spider is beneficial to the environment as they control the numbers of other pests such as cockroaches, silverfish and earwigs.

Danger to humans and first aid

There is a belief that the Daddy-long-legs Spider has the most toxic venom of all spiders, however, there is no scientific evidence to back this up. The myth probably grew from observations that the Daddy-long-legs spider will kill and eat a Redback Spider. However, the venom is not actually that potent, even for insects.

The Daddy long legs is not considered harmful to humans. However, in the unlikely event of a bite, a positive identification of the spider by an expert should be made and medical attention sought if any reaction persists for more than a short time.

Get to know the Wolf Spider

(Lycosa sp)

Wolf Spider

Appearance

  • There are many species of Wolf Spider, ranging in size. Their body colours are typically dull, with most having variegated patterns in brown and yellow, grey, black and white; some inland species are a bright salmon pink below.
  • Often the patterns include distinguished lines on the front of the body and scroll-like patterns on the abdomen.
  • The spider’s underside is light grey, cream or black, sometimes salmon pink, often with black or white markings.
  • Wolf spiders have eight eyes in three rows (4,2,2), with the four smaller eyes in front and the four largest arranged in a square on top of the head.
  • Two of the commonest Australian species are Lycosa godeffroyi and Lycosa leuckartii.
  • Size range 1 cm – 8 cm.

Life cycle

  • The male wolf spider attracts the female by waving its pedipalps (are the two appendages on the front of a spider’s head) and front legs in the air. As long as these signals are carried out correctly, the female does not regard the male as being the next potential meal.
  • After mating, the female produces a silk mat into which she deposits around 100 eggs. The silk is then rolled into a protective ball which she then attaches to her abdomen and proceeds to carry it around with her until the eggs hatch.
  • After hatching, the babies crawl onto the mother’s back and remain there until their fat reserves have been used up and they need to start finding their own food. This process may take several months.
    Male wolf spiders probably don’t live more than a year, but females of some species can live for several years.

Habitat

  • Wolf Spiders are found throughout Australia. They are strong, agile hunters that live on the ground in leaf litter or burrows. They are often found in lawns and gardens.
  • Most Wolf spiders are wanderers but some build burrows, either open or with a trapdoor, while others may make temporary retreats in vegetation.
  • According to the Queensland Museum, two Wolf spider species are known to be predators of cane toads. Lycosa lapidosa will take small toads and frogs while L. obscuroides has been noted to biting and killing a large toad within one hour.

Good – The Wolf spider is beneficial to the environment as they control numbers of other pests such as cockroaches, earwigs and millipedes.

Danger to humans and first aid

If bitten by a Wolf spider, symptoms of a bite are usually minor, restricted to local pain or itchiness. Less commonly, symptoms can include swelling, prolonged pain, dizziness, rapid pulse and nausea.
Seek medical attention if symptoms persist.

Get to know the White-tailed Spider

(Lampona cylindrata)

White-tailed Spider

Appearance

  • White-tailed spiders have a dark reddish to grey, long-shaped body and dark orange-brown banded legs.
  • The grey abdomen has two pairs of faint white spots (less distinct in adults) with a white spot at the tip; the male has a hard, narrow plate on the front of the abdomen.
  • A dense brush like tuft of hairs on the ends of their legs allow them to walk easily on smooth or sloping surfaces.
  • Size range, Males 12 mm and Females 18 mm.

Life cycle

  • The White-tailed spider makes temporary silk retreats and spin disc-shaped egg sacs, each containing up to 90 eggs.
  • On hatching, the little spiders scatter to find their first meal.
  • Life span of White-tailed spider is about 1 year.

Habitat

  • White-tailed spiders are wondering hunters that live beneath bark and rocks, in leaf litter, logs and detritus in bush, gardens and houses.
  • They are most active at night when they wander about hunting for other spiders, their preferred food.
  • During summer and autumn White-tailed Spiders are often seen in and around houses where they find both shelter and plenty of their favoured black house spider prey.

Good – The White-tailed spider is beneficial to the environment as they control numbers of other spider species.

Danger to humans and first aid

White-tailed Spider bites can cause initial burning pain followed by swelling and itchiness at the bitten area. Occasionally, there are unconfirmed reports of weals, blistering or local ulceration.
A debate continues about the involvement of White-tailed Spider bite in cases of severe ulcerative skin lesions seen in patients diagnosed as probable spider bite victims. Typically, in such cases no direct evidence of spider bite is available. The available evidence suggests that skin ulceration is not a common outcome of White-tailed Spider bite.
If systems persist or worsen, seek medical attention.

Get to know the Huntsman Spider

(Heteropoda sp)

Huntsman Spider

Appearance

  • Huntsman spiders are large, long-legged hairy spiders.
  • They are mostly grey to brown, sometimes with banded legs.
  • Many huntsman spiders, have rather flattened bodies adapted for living in narrow spaces under loose bark or rock crevices. This is aided by their legs, instead of bending vertically in relation to the body, the joints are twisted so that they spread out forwards and laterally in a crab-like fashion (‘giant crab spiders’).
  • Body lengths in females is 2 cm and the male is 1.6 cm; Leg span is up to 15 cm.

Life cycle

  • The female Huntsman produces a flat, oval egg sac of white papery silk, and lays up to 200 eggs. She then places it under bark or a rock, and stands guard over it, without eating, for about 3 weeks. During this period, the female can be quite aggressive and will rear up in a defensive display if provoked. Some species will even carry their egg sac under their bodies while moving about. Incubation periods vary and are probably influenced by climatic conditions.
  • The mother stays with the spiderlings for several weeks. Young Huntsman spiders are pale. They undergo several moults while still with their mother, hardening to a darker brown, and eventually separating.
  • Huntsman spiders, like all spiders, moult in order to grow and often their old skin may be mistaken for the original spider when seen suspended on bark or in the house.
  • The lifespan of most Huntsman species is about 2 years or more.

Habitat

  • These species are generally widely distributed throughout Australia.
  • Huntsman spiders are found living under loose bark on trees, in crevices on rock walls and in logs, under rocks and slabs of bark on the ground, and on foliage.
  • Huntsman spiders of many species sometimes enter houses. They are also notorious for entering cars, and being found hiding behind sun visors or running across the dashboard.

Good – The Huntsman spider is beneficial to the environment as they control numbers of other spider species and insects.

Danger to humans and first aid

The bite of Huntsman Spiders is of low risk (nontoxic) to humans. They are a non-aggressive, however, a large individual can give a painful bite. Beware in summer when the female Huntsman Spider is guarding her egg sacs or young.

Get to know the Sydney Funnel-web Spider

(Atrax robustus)

Probably the most notorious of all spiders, Sydney Funnel-webs have a frightening reputation. Most of this is warranted, but some is exaggerated.

Appearance

  • Size range of a Sydney Funnel-web spider is 15 mm – 35 mm long
  • Sydney Funnel-webs are shiny, dark brown to black spiders with finger-like spinnerets (silk spinning organs) at the end of their abdomen.
  • Males have a large mating spur projecting from the middle of their second pair of legs.
  • If threatened, Sydney Funnel-webs show aggressive behaviour, rearing

Life cycle

  • Males reach sexual maturity at four years of age, females are a year later.
  • Males leave their burrows and wander (roam) over summer and autumn to find females to mate with.
  • When the weather conditions are suitable, i.e. after heavy rain when the ground is soaked and the air is humid, the mature male starts wandering in search of a mate.
  • Females spend almost their whole life in their burrows and await the arrival of a potential suitor.
    The male then takes his life in his hands by attracting the female out of her burrow and soothing her to allow him to mate rather than becoming her next meal!
  • The female produces an egg-sack containing a hundred or so eggs and stores it in her burrow until the spiderlings hatch.
  • Males usually die 6-8 months after reaching maturity, while females may continue to breed for several more years.

Habitat

  • The Sydney Funnel-web Spider are found in New South Wales, from Newcastle to Nowra and west to Lithgow.
  • They especially favour the forested highland areas surrounding the lower, more open country of the central Cumberland Basin. This includes the Hornsby Plateau to the north, the foothills of the Blue Mountains to the west, and the Woronora Plateau to the south.
  • Funnel-web sightings are low in much of central-western Sydney, and also the sandy coastal parts of the eastern suburbs and the Botany Bay area.
  • Funnel-webs burrow in sheltered areas, such as under logs and rocks where they can find cool and humid climate. Funnel-webs charge out of their burrow when potential prey, such as beetles, cockroaches, small lizards or snails, walk across the silken trip-lines that the spider has placed around the outside of its burrow. They then return to their burrow to eat their meal.

Good – The Sydney Funnel-web spider, although very dangerous to human beings, are beneficial to the environment as they control the numbers of other pest insects, such as cockroaches, earwigs and millipedes.

Danger to humans and first aid

Funnel-web bites are dangerous and first aid should be given immediately using the pressure bandage/immobilisation technique (same as a snake bite) and the victim taken to hospital and given antivenom if necessary. The venom has a neurotoxin component that attacks the human nervous system and, in the worst cases, can result in death. However, there have been no fatalities since the introduction of antivenom.