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Redback Spiders

RED-BACK SPIDER (Lactrodectus  hasselti)

Hundreds of people are bitten by Red-back Spiders every year, however very few are seriously injured. (Check out a news article at the end of this page.) Its close relative, the Black Widow Spider, is probably the most common cause of serious spider bites overseas. An almost identical spider, the Katipo, is the only venomous spider in New Zealand. In 1987, the Brown Widow Spider (Achaearanea) (below right) was found in Brisbane. This is not considered highly dangerous to humans but nonetheless it could make young children quite ill. Its venom would be neutralized by Red-back antivenom.

The Red-back is found in all parts of Australia except in the hottest deserts and on the coldest mountains, so be especially cautious if you find yourself having to reach in places where you have limited visibility.

. It is the only dangerous spider with an Australia-wide distribution. Red-backs are very common in Summer. The female Red-back has a spherical satin-black abdomen with an orange-red stripe. The abdomen is usually about 1 cm in diameter. Eight long delicate legs arise from the tiny front segment of the body.

The male is only about one-third the size of the female and is considered harmless to humans because his fangs are so small. The male's markings are not as bright as the female as seen in this picture. It is usually easy to identify a female Red-back although her stripe may be orange, pink or even light grey.

After mating, the female eats the male. The female spins up to 8 round balls of web for her eggs. Some of these may contain as many as 300 eggs. If the weather is warm, the spiderlings hatch after about 2 weeks and will moult several times as they grow before they reach full size.

Unlike the Sydney Funnel-web, the Red-back is not aggressive and if molested will usually fall to the ground, curl up and feign death. If disturbed while guarding her eggs or cornered, she will bite the intruder with her small but effective fangs. Most bites occur when the spider is trapped against the skin e.g. when clothes are put on that contain a spider, or picked up in rubbish. Most bites occur on the hands or feet than the rest of the body.

Although this spider injects only a tiny amount of venom, it can cause serious illness and deaths used to occur before an antivenom became available in 1956. The action of the venom is unique as it can attack all the nerves of the body and in serious cases cause a paralysis which may lead to death. At first the bite is only as painful as a minor insect sting, but after a few minutes it becomes intense and spreads to other parts of the body. A special feature seen only with Red-back bites is that the bitten limb may sweat profusely while the rest of the skin remains dry. Fortunately the serious affects of the venom take several hours or even days to develop and there is plenty of time for treatment with antivenom. Remember that most bites can be avoided if you keep your eyes open for that tell-tale red stripe.

The Brown Widow is of the same group as the Red-back and the Black Widow but its toxin is about one-tenth the strength of the Red-back toxin and does not cause the same severe reaction. It can be a garden pest of plague proportions.

Check out more photos of all these spiders on the Spider photos pages.


COURIER MAIL - Wednesday, 11 July, 2001: An Alice Springs man who was bitten on the bottom more than 20 times by a Redback spider needed 16 doses of antivenene to survive.

Darren Meehan, 25, believes he may have caught the spider in his jeans during a visit to an outside toilet. It had then crawled into his bed.

Mr Meehan now holds the record for the most antivenene ever injected into a person in Australia. He was attacked by the Red back spider as he lay sleeping in his bed in Alice Springs last month., but he was still getting shots of antivenene on Monday as he has been unable to shake off the effects of the huge amount of poison in his system.
The head of Alice Springs Hospital's emergency department said it was the worst Red back bite ever recorded in Australia. Emergency physician, Dr
Elizabeth Mowatt said, "This is the biggest bite I know if on record." The most serious Red back bite previously recorded only required eight doses of antivenene.

Mr Meehan said he slept through the attack and it was not until the next morning that he found more than 20 angry red bite marks on his right buttock. 48 hours later, he was doubled over in extreme pain.

Mr Meehan is now recovering from his ordeal and the bites.


24 August, 2006:
In the letter it says that "a Red-back spider attacted him as he lay  sleeping." Spiders will not bite you for no reason. I have several spiders  of my own and one of them being a black widow. She will run and keep to  herself except for catching prey. What probably happened is that the man  turned, just so happened to be on the spider, naturally the spider in its only defence did the only thing it could. That letter basically shown the  spider as the attacker when it was protecting its own life. I have a great  respect for all creatures. I just felt that this was a misrepresentation of  an animal. To me it felt like there was a bias against this spider. I just  thought that I should say something about it. I enjoyed reading the rest of your site. Thank you for your time.

Reply: I totally agree with Adam, spiders are misrepresented and misunderstood by the majority of the people. This is why I do a unit on spiders every year with my Year 5 class and hopefully will influence at least 28 kids to look on spiders with respect but not the irrational fear that comments in news stories such as this one engender. It is also the reason why I spend around 20 hrs a week on this site in my spare time!! glen

Information and pictures were taken from children's projects and where credited to that child does not claim to be original information. Where possible, permission to reproduce has been sought. Any infringement of copyright is purely unintentional.

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