The White-tailed Spider is a dark, elongated spider, 1 to 2.5 cm long. The abdomen is shaped like a lemon pip and has a dull cream spot on the tip. Male spiders and juveniles often have striped legs and two or four spots at the top of the abdomen, as well as one at the tip of the tail.
A White-tailed SpiderIllustrator: Graham Milledge. Source: Museum Victoria
The White-tailed Spider is a hunting spider, and does not make a web to catch its prey.
This is a common spider that usually lives in the garden under rocks, leaf litter and bark of trees. It does not make a permanent home, but roams at night hunting for food – mainly small insects and other spiders. This wandering habit is the reason why it is commonly found inside houses in bedrooms, in bed clothes, clothes left on the floor, wardrobes, curtains, bathrooms, laundries, and running across the floor or wall in other rooms. Spiders are most active from spring through to late autumn.
A White-tailed Spider outsidePhotograph: Alan Henderson. Source: Museum Victoria
White-tailed Spiders are not aggressive spiders; they tend to bite only if they are provoked, threatened or startled in some way. Usually they prefer to run away. The bite can cause local burning pain followed by a variable illness. Symptoms may include an itchy lump, swelling, discolouration, blistering, ulceration, nausea or vomiting.
The best way to deal with these spiders inside the house is to use some common sense. Be aware of places they like to hide, do not leave clothes on the floor (but if you do, then shake them before putting them on), and check bedclothes before going to bed. The spiders are active at night, so they are more likely to be seen then. Either catch the spider and put it outside, or kill it by squashing or spraying with a household insecticide. You should not need to employ a pest exterminator to spray or fumigate your house solely for the control of White-tailed Spiders.
A White-tailed Spider insideSource: Museum Victoria
To treat a spider bite, the wound should be washed with soap and water, dabbed with an antiseptic solution and, if painful, a water–ice pack or anaesthetic cream or lotion applied. Try to locate the spider responsible, and keep it so it can be identified correctly if necessary. Keep the person bitten under observation for 1–3 hours, and if their condition deteriorates seek medical attention.
This spider is suspected of causing a necrotic reaction resulting in severe skin damage in some 12 cases in the last 10 years. Unfortunately, none of the people affected could positively identify what bit them, so the White-tailed Spider remains only one suspect.
Brunnet, B. 1994. The Silken Web – A Natural History of Australian Spiders. Reed Books: Melbourne.
Lindsey, T. 1998. Spiders of Australia. New Holland Publishers: Sydney.
Walker, K. L., Yen, A. L. and Milledge, G. A. 2003. Spiders and Scorpions commonly found in Victoria. Royal Society of Victoria: Melbourne.
We found out from the museum entomology staff that White Tails bite they do not spit. Their main prey is other spiders particularly Black House Spiders. Spiderlings are so small their fangs could not penetrate human skin and their venom glands will be working.
Hi Karen, white-tailed spiders are not a communal species but it is possible for homes to have more than one. Don't be too concerned, there is no species of spider that actively seeks out and bites people. It may have been that your husband rolled on the spider and that it bit in self defence. Spraying of the house is a personal decision but be aware that it will be a short term measure at best. You would need to talk to pest control companies to see what sort of guarantees they could give you that their methods would kill all the spiders in a home and how long the sprays would be effective. You would need to be doing continual spraying as spiders would return as the chemicals wore off. My opinion is that it is better to know the habits of the spiders and thereby minimise the chance of any further bites. The Australian Museum has information about spiders in the house and garden with advice on how to miminise spider numbers in the home.
Hi Linda, when young, White-Tailed Spiders are pale grey with white stripes (or chevrons) on the abdomen. As they age, the white stripes fade until the only marking is the white spot on the end of the abdomen. In very old females, even the white spot becomes difficult to see. Adults don't build a web but hunt for their prey by wandering, which is why they happen to wander into houses so regularly. They do, however, construct a small shelter made of silk which is placed in small crevices, behind cupboards, or under the bark of trees. Within this shelter, the female will make a number of egg sacs and stay with them until they hatch. The young spiderlings then disperse to live their lives independently.
We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.
Hi Lin, It is difficult without an image; even though your description sounds quite spectacular the colouring doesn’t match any adult spiders that spring to mind. We are wondering whether you may have seen either a juvenile huntsman which can move very quickly or possibly one of the species of crab spider. However the crab spiders don’t usually move that fast and don’t sound colourful enough to match your description.
Hi Julianne, I hope your sister is now fully recovered. I guess one of the problems with displaying and attributing your photos to a white-tailed spider bite may be how sure your sister is of the species of spider and whether it was actually a spider that caused the problem. You mention that she didn't know it was a spider bite to begin with; does this mean she didn't see what bit her? Some extremely painful inflammations such as cellulitis can result from things other than spider bites. Regardless of that unfortunately we are not sure of a particular group or organisation who may want the images. Perhaps others reading this will be able to offer you some suggestions.
Thanks for the article! I think I have accidentally ate a few of them before I realised the muesli I was eating was infested. Will there be any consequences to ...
To read the latest tweets from @museumvictoria
Follow Museum Victoria on
Hi Rachel, I've just discovered this site.
I too left the UK on the Fairstar in Feb 1970. Arrived Fremantle at night, then onto Melbourne, where we were b...