Spiders of Australia

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Redback spider Red back underside.jpg
Redback spider

Australia has a number of highly venomous spiders, including the Sydney funnel-web spider, its relatives in the family Hexathelidae, and the redback spider, whose bites can be extremely painful and have historically been linked with deaths in medical records. [1] Most Australian spiders do not have venom that is considered to be dangerously toxic. [2] [3] [4] No deaths caused by spider bites in Australia have been substantiated by a coronial inquest since 1979. There are sensationalised news reports regarding Australian spiders that fail to cite evidence. [5] A Field Guide to Spiders of Australia published by CSIRO Publishing in 2017 [3] featuring around 836 species illustrated with photographs of live animals, around 381 genera and 78 families, introduced significant updates to taxonomy from Ramirez, Wheeler and Dmitrov [6] [7] [8] [9]


Early work on Australian spiders

An exploratory work on Australian spiders, Die Arachniden Australiens, nach der Natur beschrieben und abgebildet ("The arachnids of Australia, described and depicted according to nature", 1871-1890), was begun by L. Koch and continued by Graf E. von Keyserling. The collectors of that time included Eduard Daemel (1821–1900) entomologist, trader, explorer and collector; and Amalie Dietrich (1821–91) who spent 10 years in Australia collecting specimens for the Museum Godeffroy in Hamburg.

William Joseph Rainbow (1856–1919) was one of the most prolific of Australia's early home-grown contributors. He described around 200 new species of spiders. His Census of Australian Araneidae (1911) listed all 1,102 species known to that date.

Keith McKeown wrote Spider Wonders of Australia in 1936, followed by Australian Spiders: Their Lives and Habits in 1952 and Australian Spiders in 1963. Barbara York Main, based in Western Australia, wrote a Jacaranda Pocket Guide in 1964. John Child published Spiders of Australia in 1965. In 1967 V. V. Hickman, contributed Some Common Spiders of Tasmania. Ion Staunton was author of a factfinder book All about Australian Spiders in 1968. Densey Clyne published Australian Spiders in 1969. Ramon Mascord published Australian Spiders in Colour in 1970, Australian Spiders in 1978 and Spiders of Australia in 1980. [3]

Australian spider families

Mygalomorphae Actinopodidae Missulena bradleyi Eastern Mouse Spider The Gap Brisbane Mygalomorphae Actinopodidae Missulena bradleyi Eastern Mouse Spider The Gap Brisbane 003.jpg
Mygalomorphae Actinopodidae Missulena bradleyi Eastern Mouse Spider The Gap Brisbane

Australian spider families include: [3] Ambush-hunters (Arkyidae), Ant-eating Spiders (Zodariidae), Armoured Spiders (Tetrablemmidae), Assassin Spiders (Archaeidae), Australian Funnelweb Spiders (Hexathelidae), Australian Tarantulas (Theraphosidae), Brush-footed Trapdoor Spiders (Barychelidae), Cave Cobweb Spinners (Nesticidae), Comb-footed Spiders (Theridiidae), Comb‐tailed Spiders (Hahniidae), Cosmopolitan Spider Hunters (Cithaeronidae), Crab Spiders (Thomisidae), Crevice Weavers (Filistatidae), Curtain-web Spiders (Dipluridae), Daddy Long-legs Spiders (Pholcidae), Diamond-headed Spiders (Stenochilidae), Dwarf Orb-weaving Spiders (Symphytognathidae), False Wolf Spiders (Zoropsidae), Fishing Spiders (Pisauridae), Flatties (Selenopidae), Funnel Weavers (Agelenidae), Goblin Spiders (Oonopidae), Ground Sac Spiders (Trachelidae), Ground Spiders (Gnaphosidae), Hackled-mesh Weavers (Amaurobiidae), Hair-spike Synotaxids (Physoglenidae), Huntsman Spiders (Sparassidae), Intertidal and House Spiders (Desidae), Jumping Spiders (Salticidae), Lace-sheet Weavers (Psechridae), Long-claw Spiders (Gradungulidae), Long-jawed Ground Spiders (Gallieniellidae), Long-jawed Spiders (Tetragnathidae), Long-spinneret Speedsters (Prodidominae), Lynx Spiders (Oxyopidae), Mesh-web spiders (Dictynidae), Midget Ground Weavers (Ochyroceratidae), Midget House Spiders (Oecobiidae), Minute Litter Spiders (Mysmenidae), Money Spiders (Linyphiidae), Mouse Spiders (Actinopodidae), Net-casting Spiders (Deinopidae), Orb-weavers (Araneidae), Pirate Spiders (Mimetidae), Platform Spiders (Stiphidiidae), Prowling Spiders (Miturgidae), Ray Spiders (Theridiosomatidae), Recluse Spiders (Sicariidae), Red-and-black Spiders (Nicodamidae), Running Crab Spiders (Philodromidae), Sac Spiders (Clubionidae), Saddle-legged Trapdoor Spiders (Ctenizidae), Scuttling Spiders (Cycloctenidae), Seashore Spiders (Anyphaenidae), Shield Spiders (Malkaridae), Six-eyed Ground Spiders (Orsolobidae), Slender Sac Spiders (Cheiracanthiidae), Small Swift Spiders (Phrurolithidae), Southern Hunting Spiders (Toxopidae), Spiny‐legged Sac Spiders (Liocranidae), Spiny Trapdoor Spiders (Idiopidae), Spitting Spiders (Scytodidae), Swift Spiders and Ant Mimics (Corinnidae), Tasmanian Cave Spiders (Austrochilidae), Termite Hunters (Ammoxenidae), Tiny Orb-weavers (Anapidae), Tree Sheet-web Spiders (Cyatholipidae), Tree Trapdoor Spiders (Migidae), Tube-web Spiders (Segestriidae), Two-tailed Spiders (Hersiliidae), Unusual Flatties (Trochanteriidae), Venomless Spiders (Uloboridae), Wandering Spiders (Ctenidae), White‐tailed Spiders (Lamponidae), Wide-clawed Spiders (Periegopidae), Wishbone Spiders (Nemesiidae), Wolf Spiders (Lycosidae), Woodlouse Hunters (Dysderidae). Of these 9 families are mygalomorph spiders, the remaining araneomorphs.

Australian spider species

A complete checklist of Australian spiders can be found at the website of the Australasian Arachnological Society [10] which is updated occasionally, independent of the World Spider Catalog [11] (WSC), but generally following the WSC.

Australian peacock spiders

Maratus volans MalePeacockSpider.jpg
Maratus volans

Peacock spiders ( Maratus spp.) are endemic to Australia. Peacock spider males extend brilliantly coloured fans and wave their legs in a display for their female partners. Their fans are flaps and fringes on the sides of the abdomen, normally folded away, are inflated and spread wide when displaying. Presently the Australian peacock spiders are assigned to two genera, Maratus Karsch 1878 and Saratus Otto & Hill 2017. Whereas only a single species of Saratus has been described, the genus Maratus includes a diverse variety of at least 59 described species endemic to Australia.

The anomalus group includes relatives of M. anomalus that can be distinguished by the presence of a blunt, bifurcated apex of the outer ring of the embolus above a shorter, sharply pointed inner apex of the male pedipalp. The female epigynum has heavily sclerotized (darker) ducts at the lateral and medial posterior margin of each fossa.

The calcitrans group is widely distributed in eastern Australia with many colourful species. Davies and Żabka (1989) figured a male M. ottoi from the vicinity of Brisbane, but did not give it a name. The most widely distributed species is M. plumosus, first found near Sydney. The male M. plumosus is also the most atypical of the group, with feathery plumes that it extends to the rear above its elevated and partly expanded fan. Males of all other species in the group inflate their spinnerets as they display to females. All members of the group have an asymmetric display in which they alternately extend or kick one leg III to one side, then the other leg III to the other side.

The chrysomelas group includes the widely distributed M. chrysomelas and the closely related M. nigromaculatus that is known only from the southern coast of Queensland. M. chrysomelas can be found in the arid interior and the tropical north. The fimbriatus group has been found at a number of locations in the grazed interior of New South Wales. The closely related M. licunxini was collected at Carnarvon Station Homestead in the interior of Queensland. These spiders are quite different from any other known Maratus, and their display includes the use of extended legs I. The harrisi group includes two closely related species with a lobate or rounded flap on either side of the fan. The discovery and later rediscovery of M. harrisi by Stuart Harris was the subject of an award- winning documentary entitled Maratus: A Documystery.

Maratus mungaich by Jean Hort Maratus mungaich by Jean Hort (cropped).jpg
Maratus mungaich by Jean Hort

The mungaich group endemic to the southern part of Western Australia, includes species with very wide, brightly-coloured fans covered with a pattern of bright red scales on a background of iridescent scales. All males in the group extend legs III, but several (M. avibus, M. bubo, M. caeruleus, and M. madelineae) closely bracket the fan with legs III as they display. The pavonis group is centered around Maratus pavonis. The spicatus group includes three very small species. Males rear their colourful fan and wave it from side to side but do not extend legs III as they display to females. The tasmanicus group includes two closely related species, one southeastern and one southwestern. Males have a large triangular fan with lobate flaps, each flap bearing a large black spot. The velutinus group have a velvety-black fan with elongated, black dorsal scales. The volans group contains three of the most colourful peacock spiders. Males of all three species have a large, fringed fan with distinctive figures consisting of pigmented scales on a background of iridescent scales.

Australia's redback spider and Sydney funnelweb

Redback spider Latrodectus hasselti, Myall Park Botanic Garden, Glenmorgan, Queensland Australia Redback Spider Latrodectus hasselti .jpg
Redback spider Latrodectus hasselti, Myall Park Botanic Garden, Glenmorgan, Queensland Australia

The redback spider's original range is considered to be parts of the South Australian and Western Australian deserts, from where it has since invaded the rest of Australia and several places overseas, including New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and Japan. [12] The redback performs sexual cannibalism during mating, the female eating the male who sacrifices himself. [13] The most obvious sign of a redback bite is extreme pain accompanied by localised sweating, beginning three to five minutes after being bitten. The sweating then becomes more generalised. This is the result of the body reacting to its own neurotransmitter chemicals leaking from nerve junctions at the bite site. Systemic effects such as feeling sick, abdominal pain and nausea can be brought on by trauma and associated pain. [3] Four randomized controlled trials of redback antivenom, developed in 1956, have occurred. Isbister et al. reported in 2015 that any patient for whom antivenom is considered must be fully informed that there is considerable weight of evidence to suggest it is no better than placebo, there is a risk of anaphylaxis and serum sickness, and that routine use is therefore not recommended. [14]

The Sydney funnelweb spider Atrax robustus , is considered to be the world's most dangerous spider. It is found within a 100 km diameter circle around Sydney. No deaths have occurred since the advent of an antivenom in 1981. Males wander at night in spring and summer in search of females. Some wander into houses or fall into swimming pools, where they can stay alive underwater for long periods. This species has been milked for research at James Cook University Cairns for use in cancer treatments. [3]

White-tailed spiders myths and hoaxes

A white tailed spider CSIRO ScienceImage 210 White tailed spider.jpg
A white tailed spider

The urban myth of the bite of the white-tailed spider leading to severe illness and large flesh-eating wounds has never been verified. Studies of verified Lampona bites have not shown any case of necrotising ulcers. [15] [16] Lamponidae has nearly 200 known species, all but two in Australia. The most common species is Lampona cylindrata (throughout Australia but not eastern Queensland). The almost identical Lampona murina is restricted to eastern Australia. These two species are difficult to tell apart, the only clue in the field, without looking at genitalia, being location. Lamponids have eight eyes in two rows. The middle two eyes in the back row are oval shaped and often silvery or blueish. Most tend to be medium-sized, though the body length range of all species is 3 to 13 mm. The cigar-shaped abdomen (sometimes flattened) is narrowed at both ends. The cephalothorax, which is often wider than the abdomen, is similarly shaped but shorter, usually about half the length of the abdomen. Legs are slender, with two claws, usually more slender than those of the similar Gnaphosidae. Juveniles tend to have more or less obvious whitish marks on the upper surface of the abdomen. [3]

The urban myth originated in 1982 when Australian medical researcher Struan Sutherland claimed the white-tailed spider as the culprit of severe skin ulcers and necrotic lesions. This was perpetuated by a number of articles in medical journals. Research by toxicologist Geoff Isbister and arachnologist Mike Gray investigated verified Lampona cylindrata bites, patients complained about pain, redness and itchiness, but researchers could find no resulting necrotic ulcers or other confirmed infections. [15] [17] [18]

Daddy long-legs potent venom myth

The daddy long-legs spider Pholcus phalangioides (so named because the abdomen is finger-shaped) is one of nine introduced pholcids in Australia. A myth developed around its venom, suggesting it would easily kill a person if only its fangs were big enough to penetrate skin. This claim is untrue. [19] It may have arisen because of its ability to kill the redback spider Latrodectus hasseltii. Daddy long-legs spiders can tangle up and wrap redback spiders from a safe distance by means of their long legs, which they use to apply silk. Once the redback is fully trussed, the daddy long-legs spider bites at will and simply waits for the bigger spider to die so it can feed. [3]

See also

Related Research Articles

Hobo spider Species of spider

The hobo spider is a member of the genus of spiders known colloquially as funnel web spiders, but not to be confused with the Australian funnel-web spider. Individuals construct a funnel-shaped structure of silk sheeting and lie in wait at the small end of the funnel for prey insects to blunder onto their webs. Hobo spiders sometimes build their webs in or around human habitations. The hobo spider lays its eggs in September and they hatch during late spring. After the male hobo spider mates it dies.

<i>Latrodectus</i> Genus of arachnids

Latrodectus is a broadly distributed genus of spiders with several species that, together, are referred to as true widows. This group is composed of those often loosely called black widow spiders, brown widow spiders, and similar spiders. However, such general "common names" are of limited use as the diversity of species is much greater. A member of the family Theridiidae, this genus contains 32 species, which include several North American "black widows". In addition to these in North America are also the red widow Latrodectus bishopi and the brown widow Latrodectus geometricus, which, in addition to North America, has a much wider geographic distribution. Elsewhere, others include the European black widow, the Australian redback black widow, several different species in Southern Africa that can be called Button spiders, and the South American black widow spiders. Species vary widely in size. In most cases, the females are dark-coloured, but some may have lighter bodies or even reddish. Many can have red, white or brown markings on the upper-side (dorsal) of the abdomen. Some can be readily identifiable by reddish markings on the central underside (ventral) abdomen, which are often hourglass-shaped.

Pholcidae Family of spiders

The Pholcidae are a family of araneomorph spiders. The family contains over 1,800 pholcids, including those commonly known as the marbled cellar spider , daddy long-legs spider, granddaddy long-legs spider, carpenter spider, daddy long-legger, vibrating spider, gyrating spider, long daddy, and skull spider. The family, first described by Carl Ludwig Koch in 1850, is divided into 94 genera.

Redback spider Species of spider

The redback spider, also known as the Australian black widow, is a species of highly venomous spider believed to originate in South Australia or adjacent Western Australian deserts, but now found throughout Australia, Southeast Asia and New Zealand, with colonies elsewhere outside Australia. It is a member of the cosmopolitan genus Latrodectus, the widow spiders. The adult female is easily recognised by her spherical black body with a prominent red stripe on the upper side of her abdomen and an hourglass-shaped red/orange streak on the underside. Females usually have a body length of about 10 millimetres (0.4 in), while the male is much smaller, being only 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in) long.

<i>Araneus diadematus</i> Species of spider

The spider species Araneus diadematus is commonly called the European garden spider, diadem spider, orangie, cross spider and crowned orb weaver. It is sometimes called the pumpkin spider, although this name is also used for a different species, Araneus marmoreus. It is an orb-weaver spider found in Europe and North America.

Katipō Species of arachnid native to New Zealand

The katipō is an endangered species of spider native to New Zealand. It is one of many species in the genus Latrodectus, such as the Australian redback, and the North American black widow. The species is venomous to humans, capable of delivering a potentially dangerous bite. It is a small to medium-sized spider, with the female having a round black or brown pea-sized body. Red katipō females, found in the South Island and the lower half of the North Island, are always black, and their abdomen has a distinctive red stripe bordered in white. In black katipō females, found in the upper half of the North Island, this stripe is absent, pale, yellow, or replaced with cream-coloured blotches. These two forms were previously thought to be separate species. The male is much smaller than the female and quite different in appearance: white with black stripes and red diamond-shaped markings. Katipō are mainly found living in sand dunes close to the seashore. They are found throughout most of coastal New Zealand except the far south and west. Katipō feed mainly on ground dwelling insects, caught in an irregular tangled web spun amongst dune plants or other debris.

<i>Hadronyche formidabilis</i> Species of spider

Hadronyche formidabilis, the northern tree-dwelling funnel-web spider, is a medically significant mygalomorph spider found in Queensland and New South Wales. It is also known as the Northern Rivers funnel-web spider or northern funnel-web spider.

Sydney funnel-web spider Large Australian venomous spider

The Sydney funnel-web spider is a species of venomous mygalomorph spider native to eastern Australia, usually found within a 100 km (62 mi) radius of Sydney. It is a member of a group of spiders known as Australian funnel-web spiders. Its bite is capable of causing serious illness or death in humans if left untreated.

White-tailed spider Species of arachnid

White-tailed spiders are spiders native to southern and eastern Australia, and so named because of the whitish tips at the end of their abdomens. The body size is up to 18 mm, with a leg-span of 28 mm. Common species are Lampona cylindrata and Lampona murina. Both these species have been introduced to New Zealand.

Spider bite Bite caused by a spider

A spider bite, also known as arachnidism, is an injury resulting from the bite of a spider. The effects of most bites are not serious. Most bites result in mild symptoms around the area of the bite. Rarely they may produce a necrotic skin wound or severe pain.

<i>Steatoda grossa</i> Species of spider

Steatoda grossa, commonly known as the cupboard spider, the dark comb-footed spider, the brown house spider, or the false widow, is a common species of spider in the genus Steatoda.

<i>Missulena</i> Genus of spiders

Missulena is a genus of mygalomorph spiders in the family Actinopodidae, sometimes called mouse spiders. It was first described by Charles Athanase Walckenaer in 1805. M. tussulena is found in Chile, but the rest are indigenous to Australia.

<i>Maratus</i> Genus of spiders

Maratus is a spider genus of the family Salticidae. These spiders are commonly referred to as peacock spiders due to the males' colorful and usually iridescent patterns on the upper surface of the abdomen often enhanced with lateral flaps or bristles, which they display during courtship. Females lack these bright colors, being cryptic in appearance. In at least one species, Maratus vespertilio, the expansion of the flaps also occurs during ritualised contests between males. The male display and courtship dance are complex, involving visual and vibratory signals.

Spider behavior refers to the range of behaviors and activities performed by spiders. Spiders are air-breathing arthropods that have eight legs and chelicerae with fangs that inject venom. They are the largest order of arachnids and rank seventh in total species diversity among all other groups of organisms which is reflected in their large diversity of behavior.

<i>Maratus volans</i> Species of spider

Maratus volans is a species in the jumping spider family (Salticidae), belonging to the genus Maratus. These spiders are native to certain areas in Australia and occupy a wide distribution of habitats. They have a specialized visual system that allows them to see the full visible spectrum as well as in the UV-range; this helps them detect and pursue prey. Males of this species are characterized by their colorful abdomen flaps that are used to attract females during courtship.

Spider Order of arachnids

Spiders are air-breathing arthropods that have eight legs, chelicerae with fangs generally able to inject venom, and spinnerets that extrude silk. They are the largest order of arachnids and rank seventh in total species diversity among all orders of organisms. Spiders are found worldwide on every continent except for Antarctica, and have become established in nearly every habitat with the exceptions of air and sea colonization. As of July 2019, at least 48,200 spider species, and 120 families have been recorded by taxonomists. However, there has been dissension within the scientific community as to how all these families should be classified, as evidenced by the over 20 different classifications that have been proposed since 1900.

<i>Missulena bradleyi</i> Species of spider from Australia known as the eastern mouse spider

Missulena bradleyi, also known as the eastern mouse spider, is a species of spider belonging to the family Actinopodidae. The spider is endemic to the eastern coast of Australia.

<i>Hadronyche infensa</i> Species of spider

Hadronyche infensa, the Darling Downs funnel-web spider, is a venomous mygalomorph spider, one of a number of Australian funnel-web spiders found in Queensland and New South Wales.


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