Sunday, April 8, 2012

Adventures in Spider Misidentification: Redback

Redback 1, Skink 0
On this cold, but sunny Easter morning, I might be able to find a spider huddled in the backyard, but I think I'll combine Australian of the Week with Adventures in Spider Misidentification and offer a picture or two of the Australian Redback (Latrodectus hasseltii Thorell, 1870). Long considered a subspecies of the Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans Fabricius, 1775), or even Black Widows accidentally introduced into Australia, the Redback is now considered a likely Australian endemic and recent colonist of other areas of the world such as New Zealand and Japan.
Redback in tagled web
Like Black Widows, Redbacks tend to be more common than they seem because their web looks like little more than a tangled cobweb and they like to spin the webs on the undersides of shelters (e.g. chairs, tables, shelves, eaves) where the females can hide back in a corner or crevice. Also, the females tend to come out of their hideaways to sit in the middle of the web only at night. They make exceptions if provoked and for prey - like the unfortunate skink that I startled into a dash to its death. The spider was amazing swift, as was the venom: one bite and one twitch and the lizard was dead.

Up to 400 Redback bites are reported annually in Australia, but very few deaths have been recorded. My yard in Brisbane had a good population of Redbacks, but the closest I came to being bitten was while moving some large flower pots. My finger under the pot rim was right in a Redback's face, but she fled rather than bite, perhaps because I screamed and dropped the pot.

If you live in an area with good populations of Redbacks or other Widows, it is a good idea to be cautious when using outdoor furniture or facilities. Checking under a lawn chair and removing web and spider with a stick can help prevent unfortunate juxtapositions of soft skin and spider fangs. This is especially true when using a dunny (not the mutant Easter rabbit toy, but an 'outhouse'). Checking under the seat may seem a bit obsessive, but is preferable to being bitten in a sensitive spot: such bites used to be a high proportion of those reported. This year in New South Wales spider bites of all kinds (314) resulted in more calls to paramedics than any other category (twice as many as dog bites), but lost out in the headline of the linked article to 'ants, bees, snakes, and one ferocious rabbit'. I suppose that is a fitting end to an Easter post.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! A spider taking on a lizard! That's amazing.As for spiders attacking the tender parts, the mere thought of that will have me checking under outhouse seats even in Canada!