A lot of people I talk to are frightened of living in Australia because of its creepy-crawlies – particularly venomous spiders. Is there a realistic chance of you being killed by a spider bite in Australia? Should it put you off immigrating?
Australia has two spiders whose bites can cause death – the red-back spider and the funnel-web spider.
Where found: In all areas of Australia.
Size: Around 2 to 3 cm long including legs.
Comments: The red-back is a close relative of the black-widow. The red-back’s venom is slow acting and anti-venom is effective. Most victims of red-back bites do not become ill. Death from red-back bites is possible but rare. There have been no deaths from red-back bites since anti-venom became available in 1956. On average around 250 anti-venom treatments for red-back bites are administered each year in Australia.
Red-backs are shy and will feign death in preference to biting. Bites usually occur when the spider is forced into contact with a person putting on gardening gloves or similar garments.
Where found: Dangerous species of funnel webs are found in Sydney and Brisbane. Possible isolated instances in Adelaide. Not found in Melbourne or Perth.
Size: Females are bigger than males at 6 or 7 cm long including legs. Putting this in perspective, a female funnel web is about the same width as a human’s palm.
Comments: Unlike the shy red-back, these are aggressive creatures and will not hesitate to attack. Furthermore, their venom is fast acting and, unless treated, a bite can result in rapid death – within an hour.
Although funnel-web spiders are more aggressive than red-backs, their bites are much less common because funnel-webs are bigger and more easily seen. On average around 5 or 6 bites require anti-venom treatment each year in Australia.
In an attack the funnel-web spider will grip its victim and bite several times.
Anti-venom became available in 1980 and since then there have been no deaths from funnel-web bites.
A variety of other venomous spiders, such as the mouse spider and the wolf spider can be found in all cities.
These spiders’ venom can be very painful but is not life threatening and the spiders themselves are not aggressive – bites are uncommon.
How do I Avoid Spider Bites?
To avoid bites:
Shake out your shoes before putting them on.
Keep insect-screens closed if you intend leaving doors and/or windows open.
Don’t leave clothes and towels lying around outside.
Don’t walk around outside at night without shoes.
Don’t touch spiders which appear to have drowned – especially funnel-webs.
Funnel-webs can look drowned when they are actually very much alive.
Wear gloves when gardening.
What Should I do if I’m Bitten by a Spider?
If you are bitten by a funnel-web, stay still and apply a pressure bandage to the area. For red-back bites, stay still and apply ice. In both cases call emergency services immediately for anti-venom.
Venomous spider bites no longer cause fatalities Australia – the last recorded death was in 1979.
The number of people who are deterred from moving to Australia by spiders and other creepy-crawlies is surprising.
Stepping into your car for a journey of any length puts you at considerably more risk of injury or death than Australia’s spiders ever will.
So, spiders are alright. What about dingoes?