Updated 14 Jan 2021
Australia is home to some of the most venomous spiders in the world and much work has gone into combatting the damage done by their bites. In fact, records show no deaths from spider bites in Australia since 1981.
The following information — researched by Australia Wide First Aid — is not medical advice. If you’ve been bitten by a spider, waste no time and contact a doctor or visit a medical facility to get proper treatment.
We encourage you to learn how to treat a spider bite while waiting for emergency services. Australia Wide First Aid‘s Provide First Aid Course covers this and more.
We provide First Aid training in locations around Australia.
The Provide First Aid course includes lessons on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and information on how to administer First Aid for spider bites and insect stings. It will also prepare you to take correct measures in order to help make a full and safe recovery after being bitten by a spider.
Spiders don’t go out of their way to harm people. They are usually not aggressive and clearly we are not their food.
Spider bites will occur, however, as a defence mechanism—usually when a person unwittingly brushes up against a spider, or when they deliberately try to capture and trap the critter.
There are approximately 2,900 species of spiders in Australia. Most of these arachnids are harmless, with bites that would cause only minor itching or rashes.
“While many spiders can give you a nip,” says Dr. Aaron Harmer, arachnid researcher at Macquarie University, “in most cases, it is less troublesome than a bee sting.”
This is absolutely true. However, we cannot ignore that spider bites can have more serious consequences. In some cases, administering spider bite First Aid can only do so much, and emergency hospital treatment and observation becomes absolutely necessary.
While spider bites happen only rarely and most don’t result in severe reactions, there are also spider bites that are anything but benign.
The Sydney funnel-web spider, for example, is one of the most venomous spiders in the world, delivering atracotoxin that is particularly dangerous to humans and other primates. Their large chelicerae or fangs also allow them to deliver a bite that goes deep into the skin.
Other times, spider bites can also cause severe allergy or anaphylactic shock. This can be fatal not because—or not only because—of the toxicity of the venom, but also because anaphylaxis causes swelling and the obstruction of a person’s airways, depriving them of life-giving oxygen.
Such cases of serious envenomation and anaphylactic shock should be treated as medical emergencies. Affected individuals should immediately receive spider bite First Aid until they can be brought to the care of medical professionals.
Spider bite symptoms can vary depending on the species of the offending arachnid. We’ll come to the specifics about funnel-web and redback spider bites shortly.
Generally speaking, affected individuals can experience symptoms that include pain and swelling at the site of the bite wound, profuse sweating, abdominal or generalised pain, involuntary muscle contractions, headache, chills or fever, weakness., and unconsciousness.
Severe allergy or anaphylactic shock, on the other hand, can include such symptoms as difficulty breathing, wheezing, development of rashes or hives, stomach cramps, itchiness, and swelling of the mouth, throat, and face.
Administration of First Aid for spider bites will differ depending on the species of spider.
Funnel-web spider bites, in particular, require pressure immobilisation in order to minimise the circulation of venom in the body.
Redback spider bites, conversely, require only cold compress by application of an ice pack.
You’ll learn more about the details of First Aid treatment for different spider bites further on in this article.
For severe allergic reactions, the First Aid administration of adrenaline or epinephrine using an auto-injector would be an affected individual’s first line of defence.
For anaphylaxis, a first aid responder should not hesitate to use the auto-injector immediately, then follow the other steps of the Anaphylaxis Action Plan.
1. Sydney Funnel Web Spider
2. Other Funnel Web Spiders
3. Redback Spider
4. Mouse Spider
5. Trap Door Spider
6. White Tailed Spider
7. Australian Tarantula Spider
8. Recluse Spider
9. Huntsman Spider
10. Common Garden Orb Spider
Do you have a spider bite PICTURE or EXPERIENCE you’d like to share with us? We’d love to add your story to this informational article to help people who need to identify a spider that has bitten them. Simply email your spider bite experience and pictures through to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note, by submitting your experience and picture, you are granting Australia Wide First Aid permission to publish and share them.
Danger Level: High
The Sydney Funnel-Web spider is, without doubt, the most dangerous spider in Australia. It is also a candidate for one of the most dangerous spiders in the whole world.
One in 6 bites from a Sydney Funnel-Web spider causes a severe reaction. Anti-venom is available when you seek emergency medical treatment from your local general practitioner or hospital.
Distribution: New South Wales, particularly in forests and urban areas. Sydney Funnel-Web spiders have been found in backyards and swimming pools and can be quiet aggressive when they feel threatened.
Behaviour: Sydney Funnel-Web spiders are aggressive when threatened
Image source: www.willkillpestcontrol.com.au/spiders-pest-control.php
Among the 40 species in Australia, only 6 species of funnel-webs can cause severe envenomation. They are most active during the warmer months of November through March.
Distribution: Most common in Southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales.
Behaviour: Funnel-web spiders are aggressive when threatened.
Image source: www.museumsvictoria.com.au
Danger Level: High
The Redback spider may be life-threatening to a child, but it is rarely serious for an adult. There are approximately 2000 recorded redback spider bites each year, and about 250 of the affected individuals receive anti-venom. No deaths due to Redback spider bites have been recorded since the anti-venom was introduced in the 1950s. The main symptom of a Redback spider bite is severe and persistent pain.
Distribution: Many habitats throughout Australia, including urban areas. They often try to hide in dry, sheltered places such as garden sheds, mailboxes, and under toilet seats.
Behaviour: Redback spiders are nocturnal and only the female bite is dangerous.
Danger Level: Medium
There are 8 species of Mouse spider, all found in and around Australia. However, only one case of severe envenomation has been reported. Funnel-Web spider anti-venom is found to be effective on Mouse spider bites, as the two bites are similar and are treated with similar caution.
Distribution: Throughout Australia. Found normally in burrows, near waterways and occasionally in suburban areas. The burrows feature 2 surface trapdoors, almost at right angles to each other. These silk and soil trapdoors are well-camouflaged and the 2 doors make for an ingenius trap.
Behaviour: Mouse spiders are typically lethargic and rarely aggressive. They prefer to be active during the day.
Male and female Mouse Spider. Image source: Australian Museum
Danger Level: Medium
Trap Door spiders only cause minor symptoms such as localised pain. However, their venom can also sometimes cause nausea, lethargy, and malaise. Trap Door spider bites are similar to a Funnel-Web spider bite and are therefore treated with similar caution.
Distribution: Trap Door spiders are found throughout Australia in natural and urban environments.
Behaviour: Aggressive when threatened.
Danger level: Medium
Recent studies show that the venom of the white-tailed spider causes no major danger to humans and is limited to mild local pain.
Distribution: White-tailed spiders are found in natural and urban areas across Southern Australia, from Southern Queensland to Tasmania and from east to west coast of Australia.
Behaviour: White-tailed spiders are active and wander about at night, hunting other spiders.
Danger Level: Medium
Australian Tarantulas are non-fatal to humans. However, they can render painful bites because of their large fangs. Nonetheless, effects such as vomiting and fever are very rare. Take note, however, that an Australian Tarantula bite can be fatal to dogs.
Distribution: Australian Tarantulas are found in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, and Western Australia. Some species can also be found as far south as Victoria.
Behaviour: Their prey usually consists of insects, lizards and frogs, but they do occasionally prey on bird hatchlings. Australian Tarantulas are also known as whistling or barking spiders because some species are able to make sounds by rubbing their front limbs against their jaws.
Danger Level: Medium
Recluse Spiders have potentially dangerous venom that can be haemotoxic and can damage the blood and skin. There has been no case of Recluse spider envenomation reported in Australia.
Distribution: Southern Australia.
Behaviour: Recluse spiders are not inclined to bite.
Huntsman spiders are reluctant to bite and will more likely run away when approached. Their venom isn’t considered dangerous to humans. The danger usually comes from the accidents they cause rather than their bite.
Distribution: Hunstman spiders are widespread throughout Australia.
Behaviour: Huntsman spiders are unlikely to bite and prefer to run away.
Danger Level: Low
While the bite from a Common Garden Orb Weaver Spider can cause minor effects, such as local pain, they are aggressive and the most common species of spider to bite.
Distribution: Common throughout Australia.
Behaviour: Common Garden Orb Weaver Spider are highly aggressive and likely to bite when disturbed. They are active at night and find a sheltered place to hide during the day, such as under leaves or in clothes on the washing line.
Being able to identify the dangerous Australian spiders and knowing their behaviour will help you avoid the harm they could bring, but it’s also important you know what to do should you get bitten by one of these critters.
The information that follows is pertinent but should not be taken as medical advice. A bite from one of these dangerous spiders needs prompt and proper attention. Please seek the closest emergency medical practitioner or hospital as soon as possible.
Any bite from a large (greater than 2 cm) dark-coloured spider in parts of NSW or South-Eastern Queensland should be considered a possible bite from a Funnel-Web spider. Immediate emergency treatment should be given.
Signs and Symptoms:
A Redback spider bite may be life-threatening to a child, but is rarely serious for an adult. However, you should take caution with all Redback spider bites.
Signs and Symptoms:
For spider bites that are not from large spiders (smaller than 2 cm) and from a light-coloured spider, you should apply the same treatment as a Redback spider bite.
Note: Even when a spider appears to have weak venom, you should follow similar precautions to treating a bite from a Funnel-Web spider. A spider bite reaction can differ from person to person, potentially leading to an anaphylactic reaction, which can be life threatening. Refer to ‘What is Anaphylaxis?’ for more information about this condition.
In all spider bite cases, please seek medical assistance as soon as you can.
We’ll leave you with this spider bite story shared by one of our students. Note how sometimes, even something like a bite from a common type of spider can go unnoticed or misdiagnosed. This highlights the need for us to be aware of our surroundings and to learn as much as possible about the options available to us in terms of spider bite first aid and treatment.
“It’s actually a funny story. A couple nights ago, my partner and I were in bed, and he shot up and said he’d seen a spider—safe to say we didn’t sleep in our own bed for nights. He then developed bronchitis within what appears to be 28 – 36 hours. He didn’t know what type of spider it was, and he didn’t alert the GP when he saw her. Today, however, when I was getting ready for work, I found the 8-legged rascal in my clothes! It was the brown big-butted garden orb weaver spider.
The symptoms were nausea and dizziness, which he’s had since the bite he found the morning after, but the doctor—I think—has misdiagnosed the severity because of the unknown spider bite, and she instead prescribed heavy duty antibiotics, puffers, and even steroids to my partner.”
“Two days after the spider bit my partner, the spider bite now looks like a purple smudge, a bit like a bruise. The morning after the spider bite occurred, it looked like a purple nipple due to swelling and because my partner scratched it.”
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