Deadly Spiders

22 June, 2008

Question: I’ve just immigrated to Melbourne. After I arrived I was told that Australia is home to deadly poisonous spiders? Is this true?

Answer: Firstly, spiders are not poisonous. Poisonous animals make you sick if you eat them. Venomous animals inject venom when they bite or sting.

Red-back Spider (Latrodectus hasseltii)

Red-back Spider (Latrodectus hasseltii)
Photographer: Alan Henderson / Source: Museum Victoria

All Australian spiders (except for a small family called the Uloboridae) are venomous and inject venom with their fangs. Having said that, many Australian spiders have fangs that are too small to pierce human skin and others have venom that has little effect on humans. It is also worth remembering that spiders will only bite people in self defence.

Sydney Funnel-web Spider (Atrax robustus)

Sydney Funnel-web Spider (Atrax robustus)
Photographer: Alan Henderson / Source: Museum Victoria

Only two spiders have caused human fatalities in Australia: the Red-back Spider and the Sydney Funnel-web Spider (which is found only in the Sydney region). However, no one has died from a spider bite in Australia since the antivenoms for these two spiders became available in hospitals (1956 and 1981 respectively).

All other spiders in Australia are considered to be relatively harmless. Bites from these spiders will usually cause only minor irritation and/or swelling at the bite site. Some people may experience allergic reactions to spider venom and suffer symptoms such as dizziness and vomiting after being bitten by a spider. The seriousness of a reaction will depend on the age, size and heath of the person bitten.

Museum Victoria has a free identification service. If you would like to have a spider identified you can either bring it to the Melbourne Museum Discovery Centre or post it to us (see address below). Specimens should be packaged carefully in an unbreakable container and placed in the freezer overnight prior to posting. Wrapping specimens in a tissue or between cotton balls will ensure that they reach us in one piece. We are also able to identify spiders from photographs.

Comments (7)

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Narelle Cullen 21 December, 2009 17:14
Would you be able to help me please identify this spider that is living in our front garden. The spiders house is aprox the size of a good 50 cent piece or even bigger. It is very nervous and shy and I have only ever seen it sitting at the top of it's hole still inside waiting to catch it's dinner. People have since made me a bit scared saying it could be poisonous. Hope the photo is of assistance thanks in anticipation Narelle Cullen
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Discovery Centre 22 December, 2009 13:05

Hi Narelle,

The Museum offers a free identification service so please feel free to send your image to discoverycentre@museum.vic.gov.au

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Melinda Wosik 6 March, 2010 16:05
Hi, I am creating a poster and need a picture of a redback spider and one of a funnel web spider that are large enough (ie >500Mb) to blow up onto an A2 poster. Any help would be most appreciated. Kind regards Melinda
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Discovery Centre 10 March, 2010 11:27

Melinda, requests for images marked "Source: Museum Victoria" can be made at this website. Guidelines here. High-res versions can be arranged. Otherwise, there's a great site for searching CSIRO's science website, here.  

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Anika 21 February, 2011 18:49
love the pix
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anneke mcdonald 28 June, 2012 00:37
i am writing a murder mystrey and would like to use a funnel web spider as the weapon...could you please tell me what the funnel web bite does to the human to kill? thanls for your time anneke
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Discovery Centre 30 June, 2012 10:24
Hi Anneke, this link to the CSL website has information on the effects on the body of a bite from a species of funnel-web spider. As you probably know there are a number of species of funnel-web spider in Australia and not all are considered highly dangerous. This link to the CSIRO website has some general information on funnel-web spiders.
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