Melbourne Trap-door Spider Stanwellia sp.

Spiders of Victoria series

Identification

Due to their size, colour and large fangs, these spiders are often thought to be Sydney Funnel-web Spiders, but the Sydney Funnel-web only occurs in New South Wales.

Illustration of a Melbourne Trap-door Spider

A Melbourne Trap-door Spider
Illustrator: Graham Milledge / Source: Museum Victoria

The Melbourne Trap-door Spider is a large robust spider with females growing to a body length of 35 mm and males to 25 mm. They are generally light to dark brown in colour. The abdomen is often paler than the rest of the spider with a dark, mottled rib-like pattern on the upper surface.

The male is similar to the female except that some specimens have golden hairs on the cephalothorax (head-section).

The Melbourne Trap-door Spider has parallel downward pointing fangs, so in order to bite it must rear back and bring its fangs down in a striking action. People who see a spider behaving like this often assume that the spider must be a Sydney Funnel-web.

However, this method of striking is characteristic of all the so called ‘primitive spiders’ or mygalomorphs such as trap-doors, funnel-webs, mouse spiders and whistling spiders due to this parallel arrangement of their fangs.

Photo of a female Melbourne Trap-door Spider

A female Melbourne Trap-door Spider. Note the pattern on the abdomen.
Photographer: Graham Milledge / Source: Museum Victoria

Habitat & Biology

The Melbourne Trap-door Spider is a common ground-dwelling spider often encountered by the weekend gardener when digging soil or moving rocks.

Both males and females dig silk-lined burrows up to 40 cm deep in soft earth. Despite the reference in the common name, the entrance of the spider's burrow does not have a 'trap-door'. The spider feeds at night, catching its prey by setting several strands of silk radiating out from the burrow entrance. The spider sits just inside the entrance of the burrow and waits for an insect to ‘trip’ these silken threads. The spider then rushes out and grabs the prey.

Males leave the burrow when mature and roam in search of a mate. This usually occurs in autumn or early winter and spiders may wander into houses, garages, swimming pools, etc.

Trap-door spiders have long life spans and may live from 5 to 20 years.

Photo of a Melbourne Trap-door Spider

A Melbourne Trap-door Spider
Photographer: Graham Milledge. Source: Museum Victoria

Bites

Due to the size of the fangs, the trap-door spider can inflict a deep, painful wound, but the venom is not known to cause medical problems. The two long appendages at the back of the spider are spinnerets, from which silk is extruded.

Further Reading

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.

Comments (22)

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darryl 26 April, 2010 11:09
Live in Geelong suburb of Manifold Heights and have hundres of these the melbourne trapdoor in our garden and lawn. With many different size burrows ranging up to 12/13mm in diameter. Not unusal to have up to 50 burrows in a square metre. Often find males in and around the house during April/May
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Annika 16 May, 2013 04:48
Hi Darryl, I had a plastic bag of compost which had been lying there for quite some time before I decided to use it. Underneath I found a very large, black, female trapdoor spider. I touched it gently with a long stick and it not only reared up but latched on. Pretty scary stuff!!! I live in Marshall. (Geelong)
Mary 17 November, 2010 13:19
I have been watching what I think is a trapdoor spider in my Healesville garden. It makes a trapdoor at night made up of leaf litter around the tunnel and woven together, with a wee window of web in the middle. I flicked the 'door' back yesterday and watched for ages as it came to the surface with an egg that it seemed to bake in the sun for a short while before disappearing back into the tunnel. Most interesting. I googled to check what spider it might be, so hope I am right?
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Discovery Centre 19 November, 2010 11:07
Hi Mary, if you manage to get any photos when the spider emerges you are welcome to email them to discoverycentre@museum.vic.gov.au and we can try and confirm your spider's identity.
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Lily Reed-Harris 6 November, 2013 13:18
Hi,Hope you can help. I found a 3-31/2 cm hole while gardening,I sprayed he hole and a large black very agresive spider emerged. Needless to say I killed it which I don't like to do. I belived it to be a Funnel Web and still do, there was no web around the hole. I live in Creswick Victoria. I have looked on web but can't see any thing the same.
Mary 13 December, 2010 14:37
I have noticed changes in the behaviour of our spider.... The cover is no longer being made and the egg seems to have gone. Have got some good pics though, so will send in! Thanks from Mary Healesville
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unsure 21 June, 2011 19:58
is there an easy way to tell them apart form a victorian funnel web spider?
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Discovery Centre 22 June, 2011 13:12
Hi Unsure, if you compare the descriptions and images in this infosheet with those in our Victorian Funnel Web infosheet you should be able to pick up the differences. You could also look at our Victorian Spiders website on which you can do visual identifications of spiders based on their characteristics.
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Tom Kitchen 8 August, 2011 14:15
Great site, very informative, i live at Cape Paterson in Vic, down near Inverloch and have noticed these burrows with their web 'tubing' at the enterance, in the sand and they match your description of the trapdoor spiders burrow, so i take it that they are quite adaptable and comfortable in living in the sand.? How can i entice the spider out without doing it any harm? i would love to check it out. Thanks for your time. Tom
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JamesR 12 December, 2011 11:59
I found what I thought was either a Victorian Funnel Web or a Trapdoor spider in my pool and the service from Simon at the Museum was amazing - confirming within hours, from a photo I sent that it was indeed a Trapdoor. Fabulous - thanks
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Discovery Centre 12 December, 2011 12:24
Hi James, Thanks for your lovely feedback; we're very happy that you were pleased with our service (and we think Simon's amazing too).
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jamie hubble clarkson 29 November, 2013 01:15
I am actually scared of spiders just to let you know
KrisDC 16 January, 2012 19:20
Last night at Dixons Creek (near Healesville), I found a spider burrow approx 15mm across with a trap door (opened back), web lined, grass rubble on the back. Good sized spider was home but didn't come out. Front legs grey/brown. Curious to know what kind it is.
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Discovery Centre 17 January, 2012 10:34
Hi there, unfortunately we can't give identifications based on description. If you can obtain a photo or specimen we can identify it for you.
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Dani 17 March, 2012 16:59
Hi, we found five trap door spiders in our house last night. We have been living in our house since November and this is the first we have seen of them. What would have caused this many spiders to all of a sudden come into our house? The only thing different was that we had a light on inside near our front door which has a large gap under it. Could this have drawn them in?
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Discovery Centre 18 March, 2012 11:05
Hi Dani, the lights shouldn't be a factor in attracting trap-door spiders. There could be a number of reasons why you may have had some of these spiders in the house. The males will go wandering looking for a mate in autumn and winter. Heavy rain can flood spiders out of their burrows or if you have been doing any gardening or digging in the garden you may have dug them up. Don't be too concerned in that they are not considered dangerous. If you have any large obvious gaps under the doors some of those sausage draught excluders may help to keep them out.  
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Joely and Rob 26 April, 2012 16:16
Thanks so much Simon in helping us to identify or little visitor. We initially thought that it was a Vic Funnel Web, but having read Simon's explanation of Trap Door spiders, we stand corrected. As mentioned in the above advice, we'd had heavy rain for the last couple of days, and we figure that our little mate could easily have hitched a ride with wood for our fireplace. We have an all new respect for the Mt Eliza wildlife, and will certainly suggest to one of our neighbours to stop walking to his wood pile at night with bare feet. (We've also encountered Red Backs in our front yard too!). Thanks again Simon for your prompt reply, this service is invaluable.
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Linda 22 November, 2012 10:55
Hello, I've found a small hole in the backyard that is lined with a silken web. I live in Somerville Victoria. Is this consistent with the home of a venomous spider that may bite my dogs? Thanks very much, Linda
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Discovery Centre 22 November, 2012 11:13
Hi Linda, a web lined hole does sound like a spider hole and could be something like a wolf spider or trapdoor, (the trapdoors don't always have a lid on the hole). These spiders do have venom but have no interest in pets and are likely to bite only if stood on or hassled by animals or people. We are not aware of wolf spiders or trapdoors being considered highly dangerous to animals.
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Tas 24 August, 2013 22:13
Hi there. I live in Caulfield, Vic and have just discovered that we have trapdoor spiders in our yard. Have lived here for a year and a half and never seen one until the other day after digging up soil for a renovation and relocating it to a garden bed. Dozens of holes over the yard and now I am freaked out - huge arachniphobic here!! We have just built my one year old son a sand pit (which has a tarp over it as a cover). Will they burrow into sand? So worried that my son will disturb one when playing in his sandpit and get bitten even though I know they are not poisonous. Is there any way to minimize them in my yard? If I see another one, I think I am going to move to NZ!
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Discovery Centre 25 August, 2013 12:01

Hi Tas, I understand your concern but I wouldn't be too worried. I would be very surprised if the spiders haven't been present the whole time that you have been living there and it's only in digging one up you have become aware of them. We haven't had any reports to the Museum of them being found in sandpits; I'm not sure the sand would be stable enough for them to construct their burrows. If they do move into the sandpit their holes should make their presence obvious.

Despite the fact that these spiders can be quite common I think we have had one bite that I can remember reported to us, so bites are not common. In terms of minimising their numbers it is pretty much impossible to 'spiderproof' your property as many species of spider colonise areas by ballooning in on silk threads as spiderlings. You would pretty much need to be living in a dome to keep them out. Rest assured spiders have no interest in people and do not seek us out to bite. Now that you know you have some on your property just take some precautions such as wear good quality gloves when gardening, don't go walking in the garden in the dark in bare feet etc. 

Krista 31 October, 2013 15:31
I discovered I have a giant spider living inside our disused outdoor water tap. Filled up a watering can on noticed a large gloppy sack and then saw huge furry brownish black legs clutching rim of tap (body and head still inside). Def not a huntsman. Possibly trapdoor? Are they known to make burrows in improvised locations? Biggest spider legs I've ever seen!! Never using that tap again. (South yarra).
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