Small nasty critters; what you need to know about Aussie spiders

By , Travel Insights Editor Australia travel-health, travel-safety-tips

No doubt, you've just read our other post on Australia's dangerous animals "The Big Bite: Aussie sharks and crocs" and are relieved to discover that it's more likely you'll be killed by lightning than die in the jaws of a great white shark.  Phew! 

But hang on, what about all the little critters - those sneaky spiders?   It's much more likely that you'll encounter one or other of these on your Australian adventure, so it's important to put in context  exactly what you're dealing with and how to stay safe.

Spiders

Only two spiders, the funnel-web and the red-back, are currently considered dangerous in Australia. All spiders have venom glads, but only a few of the large species have fangs to actually puncture skin and cause a reaction.

There have been no deaths in Australia from a confirmed spider bite since 1979. However, approximately 2000 people are bitten each year by Redback Spiders (an effective anti-venom for Redback Spiders was introduced in 1956), and Funnel-web spider anti-venom has been given to at least 100 patients since 1980 when it was first developed. *

* Grateful to the Australian Museum for these statistics

How do I prevent spider bites?

  • Always shake out your shoes before putting them on,
  • Avoid leaving clothes or towels on the floor,
  • Wear shoes when you're playing outside and also at night.
  • Always wear gloves when gardening.

How to treat spider bites (non venomous)

It follows that the most important decision in managing a spiderbite is to decide if the spider is a possible Funnel Web Spider a Red Back Spider, or another type of spider.  For most 'other' types of spider bites :

  • Use an ice pack to lessen the pain and swelling.
  • Paracetamol may help if you are in pain.
  • Antihistamines could be useful if you are very itchy.

Bandaging is not necessary for Redback Spider bites. Applying pressure worsens the pain that often comes with Redback bites.

First aid for Funnel-web spider bites:

The main job of first-aid for a funnel-web spider bite is to prevent funnel-web venom from passing through to the lymphatic system and eventually into the bloodstream.  The pressure/immobilisation technique (as for snake bite) does this by compressing surface tissues and reducing muscle movement, so greatly slowing the lymphatic flow.

  • Apply a pressure bandage as tightly as for a sprained ankle, starting from the bitten area and binding the entire limb above the bite.
  • Bind a rigid splint onto the limb to prevent limb movement.
  • Keep the patient as calm and  quiet as possible
  • Seek medical attention immediately
  • If possible, keep the spider for positive identification.

It's an emergency!

If you need emergency help or witness someone who does, the phone number to dial in Australia for emergency services (Ambulance, Police and Fire) is 000.

Thanks to:

Australian Museum Online for first aid tips on Spider Bites and Funnel Web Bites
Ryan Wick at Flickr.com
for the photo

Read more stories from WorldNomads.com to help keep you travelling safely. WorldNomads.com - an essential part of every adventurous traveller's journey.

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2 Comments

  • RATISH said

    I saw a red back spiderin Fiji. A bit different marking then the Aussie redback.I Wonder if its deadly

  • greg said

    13 fatalities from funnel webs occured in Australia since 1910 to 1970 after 1980 no death since antivenom was founded. <br>Atrax the sidney funnel web is not like common funnel webs of tegenaria or agelenids families that make sheet webs in grass areas with an entrance, they are black brown medium to large robust well built fearsome looking with big fangs. If a female settles a nest she wont go away, if she laid eggs she guards them till her death in her nest. Males are more wondering spieces since after mature they search for females hence more pron to be indoors and bite if hide in a shoe or withing a cloth someone to wear. This is an exception in spider world as the male sidney funnel web is more toxic than the female even if a bit smaller. Usually is the opposite since males spiders are very small if compared to females and can't bite humans. What is more interesting on sidney funnel web is that is aggressive at defense so it can bite more than once in a frenzie way. The sidney funnel web before attacking always lifts up head and front legs revealing massive fangs (can penetrate fingernale so easy can penetrate clothing...) for defense so the attacker would reconsider...if not then it stings rapidly again and again like a jumping move...if predator still is around. Fangs operates downwards and droplets of poison is revealed (before even stinging .. this on studies seen in labs by experts). Of course atrax wont attack if you see it crawling in your garden or your living room ... how to get rid of it... be careful ...and no PANIC a cleaner/stick would do the job or a ...shoe.. can't see far (if you know the opposite that can see like your cat or attack like hell.. it happens only in hollywood movies) If you are bitten do all guidance told above ...NO FEAR or HYSTERIA and go to hospital ASAP.. depending on level of envenomation you are given antivenom...(on rare occasions) if given in one hour you are OK and get back home. Remember you could be bitten with dry bite from atrax but since this is risky always treat envenomations from atrax seriously even if bite is mild. A photo could do the job to know the spider image...<br>(for the site creator...) The spider makes a trap/nest like a white wallen sheet retreat with radiating outwards trip sticky threads... totally different than common funnel weavers reported firstly and can't be noticed easily as it can contain leaves, being under stones well camouflged. Also not to be confused with tube spiders - segestrias -more like the combination of the web of the agelenenids/tegenaria and sidney funnel web but lot smaller and harmless ( spiders are a hell of famillies and can't be easily recognised by knowning nothing) Hence there is quite a possiblity many australians around sidney rural areas to have or had that spider always but never noticed... Au contraire spiders nests of tegenaria and agelenids can be easily spoted in your grassy garden or fence or even your garage door corner as it is like web sheet with a hole in it where is hidden.<br>Latrodectus hasselti/reback of the photo is not that a BIG menace and fear is exxagerated but still if you are that unlucky / stupid or both antivenom is given for serious envenomations. They happened and can happen. Mostly redbacks bite is dry and she is not agressive at defense. She wont attack if felt fear but she will hide or run (can't run easy on your ..living room ... so chances to use your shoe are on your side mostly) If in clothing and feels she is close to dying she will bite...full load chances are less a dry one mostly. Redbacks are very common in australia so in your garden fence around your home there could be more than 2...or exist under your garden chair near the plants you pur water all summer or at the corner of your window from the outside or hiding at your exit door. Fear is mostly exxagerated because of exxagerating myths. (toilet spider...!) There are spiders of the same category but different family that appears close to peoples home in medeterranean europe that resemble the size (have venom and can envenomate but mostly experts know it) and web. What i conclude is that fear is much but it is not needed.<br>Just keep your place, garage, or outdoor places you use often, garden tools/furniture cleaned, check water pipes and roof gaps, set a hidrance on exit door to prevent anykind of bug to enter or put window protection, check clothing or boots out of your home for long before wearing them. Wear shoes if out in the grass at least not bear footed and use gloves when gardening your fence. Final check clothing left to dry out and if you have a pool check it at regular times after rain (this last is only for atrax as it loves water and moisture - it can stay in the water even to its sink for a whole day looking dead but its ..alive untill drowned) Most of these are things we do occasionaly for health reasons as we don't want the animal kindom in our house and we want to wear cleaned clothing or dust free matrices.... furthermore there are more dangerous animals in australia than atrax or redbacks...taipan is another reason (more for that snake... not going out bare footed in the grass or eucalyptus forests or open fields)... at least perform all these as common people do, have in mind their existence, believe that they do not want to bite you and if you see one in your place use a shoe... if you see it oudoors or on the way to your destination on foot do the shoe thing again or ...just say ..big deal and spare its life <br>thnx

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