In Australia, spiders are a fact of life. However, despite coming into contact with them nearly every day, many of us know very little about them. Often the most basic facts about these animals are mixed up in myths and urban legends which generate fear and confusion.
So, what really are spiders? Spiders are:
- Invertebrates (animals without a backbone)
- Animals with an exoskeleton (a skeleton on the outside of their body)
- Predators (animals that capture other animals to eat)
- Venomous (not poisonous), though usually this venom has negligible effects on humans
Huntsman spiders have probably been responsible for more shrieks of terror than any other spider in Australia. Huntsman spiders have 8 eyes in two more or less straight rows, the largest usually the outermost on the front row. The carapace is oval and flattened, squared off at the front in the eye region. They have long legs with two claws and dense tufts of hairs. In nature they are mostly found under bark, sometimes dozens or more under bark on dead trees. Some live in rock crevices. In houses they find places to breed under or behind objects or surfaces protecting them from the light. Female make a roughly circular egg sac.
Daddy Long-legs Spiders
Daddy Long-legs Spiders are large with long, slender legs. The abdomen is pea shaped, smaller in males, with large brown spots arranged in pairs down either side of a translucent grey central band and spread around the rest of the abdomen. The cephalothorax is flat and disc-shaped with a dark line running down the back half. The legs are brown to orange-yellow and banded. Males have very swollen pedipalps.
(Lampona Cylindrata, Lampona Murina)
White-tailed spiders are slender black with a long, tear-drop shaped abdomen, covered in fine hairs. Distinctive white spot on the tip of the abdomen, and four additional white patches may also be visible. Cephalothorax is wide at the back, narrowing at the front and domed. The legs are thick, dark red to black, with contrasting bands in juveniles. They are commonly encountered in the house, especially inside objects that have been left on the floor (clothing). They may also be seen wandering across the floor or walls. Their bite has falsely been reported to causing necrotic legions, however this is not the case. The true symptoms of White-tailed spider bite are not considered serious, and at most will cause local pain, with a possible itchy red mark lasting a week or more.
Adult females are black with a red stripe on the top of the abdomen, though some individuals may be brown and orange. Males and juveniles are smaller and more slender with cream to white marbling on the abdomen, flecked with red or orange. While surface marking may vary, a red to orange hourglass-shaped marking on the underside of the abdomen is distinct to this genus. They are found beneath outdoor furniture and pot plants, in old tyres, inside sheds, underneath houses, beneath rocks and logs. Often they are encountered when gardening or cleaning infrequently used areas.
Brown House Spiders
Members of the Theridiid family have shiny, slender legs, with a small cephalothorax and a larger abdomen. They are commonly known as ‘Cupboard Spiders’ and their colour can range from a brown or reddish plum to satiny black. The abdomen often has white or beige spots, a frontal crescent, and sometimes, small red spots or a thin red line (but never a stripe like a Redback Spider.
Black House Spiders
Stocky, hair-covered spider with a brown to black body. The abdomen is oval, with a pattern of light spots and arrow shapes at the back that may be difficult to see in many individuals. The thick legs are often held tucked over the body. The cephalothorax is barrel-like, with at least some hair. During the day they hide in a silken retreat. The legs may be visible near or at the end of the funnel. When the spider senses vibrations or is disturbed, it quickly disappears back to the retreat.