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The following spiders, commonly found in the ACT region, construct a sticky web to entangle and trap insects. All spiders should be treated with caution, even though most species, with the exception of the funnel web, are not aggressive. A vast majority of spiders are harmless and play an important role as insect predators.
Redback Spider (Latrodectus hasselti)
Female redback spiders are spherical, black, and about 12 mm in body length. They have long thin legs and have a distinctive red stripe on the back of the abdomen. The male redback is small and harmless, approx. 3-4mm in length and brown in colour. Red back spiders often build untidy webs in stacked junk and rubbish in yards or under window sills and crevices in brickwork. Redbacks are not aggressive but are capable of delivering a very serious bite that can be fatal for young children, although an anti-venom is available.
Black House Spider (Badumna and Ixeuticus species)
The female Black House Spider measures about 12-18 mm in body length, and the male is about 8-10mm long. They are commonly black in colour with grey or cream speckling on their abdomens. Black House Spiders build dense, furry, tunnel shaped webs around eaves, windows, doors and walls. If provoked these spiders can inflict a painful bite.
Orb-Weaving Spiders (Eriophora and Araneus species)
The female Orb-Weaving Spider of the common Araneus species is about 20-25 mm in body length with a lumpy abdomen, whilst the male is 5-10 mm long. The larger Eriophora species are similar in shape with a leaf shaped pattern on their back. Both species are variable in colour but the Araneus species can be brightly coloured. These spiders build large webs at twilight, commonly between trees, shrubs and clotheslines to catch flying insects. They then destroy the web in the early hours of morning. Orb spiders do bite, but are not normally aggressive.
First Aid treatment for Spider Bites
It is important to apply treatment as soon as a spider bite has occurred. If possible, the spider (dead or alive) should also be collected and taken with the patient to the hospital/doctor for correct identification.
- In most cases a cold pack or ice wrapped in a towel applied to the affected area to reduce the pain and swelling will be all that is required. Monitor the condition of the patient and seek immediate medical help if allergic reactions occur.
- Funnel Web Spider Bite: Rest and reassure the patient, apply a pressure immobilization bandage over the bitten area and around the limb, and seek medical aid urgently.
- Red Back Spider Bite: Reassure the patient, apply a cold pack over the area, seek medical aid.
For further information contact the ACT Poisons Information Centre at the Canberra Hospital on 13 11 26.
The following spiders do not construct webs and commonly wait in their burrows or hunt down their insect prey. Burrows are built in the ground, at the base of trees, shrubs, rocks or fences and vary in depth, the amount of silk material used, the number of side tunnels and the type of entrance. Some spiders construct a door at the burrow entrance, which can be a plug or hinged door.
Mouse Spider (Missulena species)
The female Mouse Spider is dark brown to black and very stout. They are 20-30 mm in body length with a broader head than that of a funnel web. The male Mouse Spider is smaller, about 12 mm long with a blue-black body. It has bright red fangs and fang bases and a red cephalothorax (first half of body). The male can be very aggressive and deliver a painful bite. The Mouse Spider's burrow is vertical with an oval entrance and two doors.
Brown Trap Door Spider Misgolas (Dyarcyops)
Brown Trap Door Spiders are often confused with the Funnel Web Spider. Female spiders are 25-35 mm in length, and males are 20 mm. Mature males have a small spur on their first pair of front legs. Both male and female spiders are usually dark brown, and occasionally black. The female has a honey coloured pattern on its head. Most Misgolas species build burrows on level ground, slopes or banks. They have no door to their burrow entrance. These spiders can inflict a painful bite but it is not fatal. The brown trapdoor is common in the Brindabella Ranges and their burrows may be seen in road cuttings.
Funnel web spiders Atraxand Hadronyche
Although not common in the ACT, regular sightings of Funnel Web Spiders do occur. The female measures approximately 30mm in body length, males about 25mm. Both spiders are shiny and black. Mature males have a spur on the second pair of front legs. Females are seldom seen, as they spend most of their lives in burrows with funnel-like silken entrances, located in crevices, under rocks or logs, usually in a cool, damp site. The bite of the male funnel web can be fatal, but an anti-venom is available. Male spiders are highly aggressive and when disturbed they will rear up with their fangs exposed and bite repeatedly. Funnel web spiders are usually found on the ground around rubble, firewood, tree stumps, rockeries, tree roots, ferns and fence posts. When bringing material such as this into the ACT from areas where Funnel Webs are common such as coastal areas, carefully inspect the material for spiders before transporting.
If you require assistance in identifying a spider please call 6258 5551.