Australian Spiders: What Travelers Need to Know

From bite prevention to first aid, these are the things travelers need to know about dangerous Australian spiders. Find out what to do if you're bitten and how to identify a spider.

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The Sydney Funnel Web spider Photo © Getty Images/James van den Broek

Of course, Australia has spiders, but the place isn't overrun with them. If it's your first time visiting Australia, don't panic. While we may have some of the world's most venomous species, most of the time you will hardly notice they're there and are only really seen if you a) go looking for them or b) they happen to pop up under or inside something. They are more scared of us than we are of them.

Here's what you need to know about the species of spider in Australia, what to look out for, and what to do if you are bitten by a spider.

Spiders in Australia

There are over 2000 species of spider in Australia but thankfully only a small number of those are actually dangerous to humans. All spiders have venom glands, but only some species have fangs large enough to puncture the skin and cause a reaction.

The first death in Australia caused by spider bite was recorded in 2016, the first since 1981. 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.

The most common species people tend to interact with are:

Redback

Related to the North American widow spiders, these black and red beauties (sometimes orange too) like to hide away from the world in dark secluded spots such as letterboxes, under ledges, outdoor furniture, around bbqs and other hidey spots; often decorated with sticky haphazard webs.

Redback Spider Photo credit: GettyImages/Paige Epifaniou-EyeEm

Funnel Web

Funnel webs and redbacks are probably the most iconic eight legged beasties in Australia. They aren't big fans of daylight so will hide away, with shoes and clothing being a known favourite hang out spot or in a small web lined burrow if outdoors. They can become aggressive if disturbed, often forming that characteristic strike pose with their front legs in the air and large fangs on show. Funnel web spider habitat extends primarily along the east coast of Australia, with summer being peak activity season for funnel webs. Sometimes these spiders are found in swimming pools.

White Tailed

Like other species, white tailed spiders like to hide out and are mainly seen at night as they look for food. You will often see them around rainy weather as they crawl out of their hidey spots into homes seeking shelter from the moisture. They are grey to black in color with a white tip on their abdomen hence the "white tailed" and are found across Australia.

Huntsman

Found all over Australia, these guys aren't dangerous to humans however they are just super fast movers and sometimes have a tendency to jump. They look scary because they can grow large, have long legs and are somewhat hairy. But.. they are the best pest control so if you have one hanging around your accommodation or wherever you may be, leave it there to munch on bugs. They like to hide out under tree bark, logs and rocks. Unfortunately, they do have a reputation of hiding out under the sun visor in cars, scuttling across the dashboard or windscreen, so make sure you wind your windows up and close that sunroof overnight. 

Huntsman Photo credit: GettyImages/Gwengoat

Spider bite prevention

  • Always shake out your shoes before putting them on, particuarly if you have left them outside
  • Avoid leaving clothes or towels on the floor
  • Wear shoes when you're outside and also at night
  • Check your bedding if it's on or close to the floor
  • If you spot a spider in a swimming pool, don't make the assumption that it has drowned. Some spiders will survive off the air bubbles attached to their leg hairs for hours. Funnel webs are known to be the Aussie pool scuba divers of the spider world, so fish the spider out with a pool net or if there is nothing around to get the spider out, probably best to avoid it and have a cool shower instead rather than risk being bitten underwater.

First aid for spider bites

If safe to do, collect the spider for identification in a sealable container or take a photo of it. If not possible, do your best to describe the spider once you arrive at hospital focusing on features such as size, color, patterning, where you were when bitten etc.

Funnel Web Spider

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

  • Keep the patient as calm and quiet as possible
  • Ring 000
  • Keep the affected limb down and patient still
  • Apply a pressure bandage as tightly, starting from the bitten area, bandage down to the end of the limb and then back to the top of the limb
  • Bind a rigid splint onto the limb to prevent limb movement.

Redback Spider

The treatment for a redback spider bite is much different to that of a funnel web. 

  • Keep the patient as calm and quiet as possible
  • Ring 000
  • Keep the affected limb down and patient still
  • Apply ice or a cold pack to the bite site
  • Do not apply a compression bandage.

For other types of spider bite e.g white tailed, wolf, trapdoor

  • Use an ice pack to lessen the pain and swelling
  • Seek medical treatment

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