Australia is home to a vast array of spiders that come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colours, many of which are the most venomous in the world. However, Australia’s spider reputation is actually bigger than its bite. Records show no deaths from spider bites in Australia since 1981. While there are approximately 2,900 species of spiders in in the country, a majority of these are harmless and will only cause minor symptoms such as itching and minor rashes when they do bite.
Dr. Aaron Harmer, arachnid researcher at Macquarie University says “while many spiders can give you a nip, in most cases it is less troublesome than a bee sting.” This is absolutely true. However, some spider bites can cause more serious effects. In some cases, administering spider bite first aid can only do so much, and emergency hospital treatment and observation becomes absolutely necessary.
The following informational blog, researched and created by Australia Wide First Aid, is not to be perceived as medical advice. If you have been bitten by a spider, please contact a medical professional or visit a medical facility to get appropriate medical advice and to obtain the most suitable treatment.
If you wish to be educated in person on how to treat a spider bite while waiting for emergency services, however, we encourage you to book a Provide First Aid Course with Australia Wide First Aid. This course includes lessons on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and information on how to administer first aid for spider bites and insect stings. It will also help you determine correct measures to take in order to ensure that you or the person you’re helping will make a full and safe recovery after being bitten by a spider.
Spiders do not intentionally harm people since these arachnids do not feed on us and are usually not aggressive. Most of the time, spider bites occur as a defense mechanism, usually when a person accidentally brushes up an exposed part of their skin against an unwitting spider, or when they deliberately try to capture and trap the critter. Still, spider bites occur only rarely, and most cases don’t result in any serious consequences.
While spider bites only happen rarely and most of them don’t result in severe reactions, there are spider species that are medically important. For example, the Sydney funnel-web spider is one of the most venomous species of spiders in the world, delivering atracotoxin that is particularly dangerous to humans and other primates. Their large chelicerae or fangs also allow them to bite deep into the skin.
Other times, spider bites also cause severe allergy or anaphylactic shock, which can also be fatal not because—or not only because—of the toxicity of the venom, but also because of how anaphylaxis causes the swelling and obstruction of a person’s airways, depriving the body of life-giving oxygen.
Such cases of serious envenomation and anaphylactic shock should be treated as medical emergencies, and any affected individual should immediately receive spider bite first aid until they can be brought under the care of medical professionals.
Spider bite symptoms can vary depending on the species of the offending arachnid. We encourage you to read this article further for the specifics on funnel-web spider bites and redback spider bites, which can be found below.
Generally speaking, however, 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.
Symptoms of severe allergy or anaphylactic shock, on the other hand, can include difficulty breathing, wheezing, development of rashes or hives, stomach cramps, itchiness, and swelling of the mouth, throat, and face.
The administration of first aid for spider bites originating from medically significant species can differ depending on the type of spider. Funnel-web spider bites, in particular, require pressure immobilisation in order to minimise the circulation of venom in the body. Conversely, redback spider bites only require cold compress by application of an ice pack. You’ll learn more about the details of first aid treatment of different spider bites later in this article.
As for the first aid treatment of a severe allergic reactions, the administration of adrenaline or epinephrine using an auto-injector is an affected individual’s first line of defense. If the person’s symptoms suggest anaphylaxis, a first aid responder should never hesitate to use the auto-injector immediately before following the other steps of the Anaphylaxis Action Plan.
TOP 10 MOST DANGEROUS SPIDERS IN AUSTRALIA
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. Resclue Spider
9. Hunstman Spider
10. Common Garden Orb Spider
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Danger Level: High
The Sydney funnel-web spider is, without a doubt, the most dangerous spider in Australia. It is also a candidate for one of the most dangerous spiders in the whole world. However, although one in six Sydney funnel-web spider bites cause a severe reaction, there is anti-venom 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 threatened.
Behaviour: Sydney funnel-web spiders are aggressive when threatened
Image sourced from https://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 sourced from www.meusemvictoria.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 in the country. Funnel-web spider anti-venom is found to be effective on mouse spider bites as the two bites are similar and are treated with the same pre-caution.
Distribution: Throughout Australia. Found normally in burrows, near rivers and waterways, and occasionally in suburban areas
Behaviour: Mouse spiders are typically lethargic, rarely aggressive spiders that prefer to be active during the day.
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 is therefore treated with the same precaution.
Distribution: Trap door spiders are found throughout Australia in natural and urban environments.
Behaviour: Aggressive when threatened.
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 hunters and wander about at night, hunting other spiders.
Danger Level: Medium
Australian tarantulas are actually non-fatal to humans. However, they can render painful bites because of their large fangs. Nonetheless, effects such as vomiting and fever is very rare. Take note, however, that the bite of an Australian tarantula 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 spider 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. Their 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
The bite from a common garden orb weaver spider causes minor effects such as local pain. However, they are aggressive, being the most common species of spider to bite.
Distribution: Common throughout Australia.
Behaviour: Common garden orb weaver spiders are highly aggressive—the most common spider species to bite. 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).
Knowing what the dangerous variants of Australian spiders look like and how they behave is an important step in avoiding the harm that they bring, but you also need to know what exactly you should do if ever you get bitten by one of these critters.
We’re here to help fill you in on some of the details, but do take note that the information below should not be taken as medical advice. If you have been bitten by a spider, 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 as 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 precaution with all redback spider bites.
Signs and Symptoms:
For other spider bites that aren’t from large spiders (smaller than 2 cm) and are from a light-coloured spider, you should apply the same treatment as a redback spider bite.
Note: Even if a spider appears to have weak venom, you should follow the same precautions as if you were bitten by 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.
Before we end this article, we’ll leave you with this interesting spider bite story that one of our students shared with us a short while back. Notice 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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