Home Topics Wildlife The truth about white-tailed spiders
By Jackie Nicoletti•April 11, 2017
White-tail spiders belong to the <em>Lampona</em> genus, native to Australia and New Guinea. <em>IMAGE CREDIT: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos (<a href="https://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.en.html" target="_blank">GFDL v1.2</a>)</em>
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White-tail spiders have gained a frightening reputation since the 1980s – much of it undeserved. We’ve answered your questions about these misunderstood and maligned arachnids.
IN JUST 20 YEARS, a previously little-known spider with virtually no evidence of harm has stirred up terror both in the public and even modern medical communities. Unfortunately, reliable facts on white-tailed spiders are shrouded with horrifying urban myths and blurred evidence from the media.
Dr Geoff Isbister, an expert in envenomation at the University of Newcastle, NSW, has published many articles and studies on white-tailed spiders. The “modern plague”, as he calls it, is the idea that spider bites can cause ghastly necrotic ulcers. This phenomenon, known as necrotic arachnidism, has been falsely associated with the white-tailed spider.
In 2003, Geoff co-authored a leading study in The Medical Journal of Australia investigating 130 white-tail spider bite cases in an effort to dispel the irrational stigma around them. However, news stories still surface from time to time that revamp fear of the spider as a flesh-eating monster.
What is true about the white-tailed spider, and what is fabricated? Why and how did the myths start?
Here are some concrete answers to your frequently asked questions about white-tailed spiders.
What is a white-tailed spider?
There are two common species of white-tailed spiders in Australia: Lampona cylindrata and Lampona murina. They are both part of the Lampona genus, native to Australia and New Guinea.
White-tail spidersed are vagrant hunters that usually roam at night. Instead of spinning webs and eating insects, they prefer to feast on other spiders, such as curtain-web spiders, daddy-long-legs, redback spiders, and black house spiders.
What does a white-tailed spider look like?
White-tailed spiders have a dark reddish grey colour with a cylindrical, cigar-shaped body. Their defining feature is a white spot at their tip. The male spider’s abdomen is 12mm, and the female spider’s abdomen is 18mm – roughly the size of your fingernail.
Where do white-tailed spiders live?
The Lampona genus is abundant, with some 60 species distributed throughout Australia. According to the 2003 study, L.cylindrata can be found across southern Australia, in southeast Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and southern Western Australia. L.murina is found in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Both species have also been found in New Zealand.
White-tailed spiders are adaptable to both bush and urban environments. The spiders like to hide beneath bark, rocks, plant litter, in gardens and within tight spaces inside of homes.
You are most likely to find a white-tailed spider indoors, at night, and during the warmer months. But have no fear – white-tailed spiders live in homes to prey on black house spiders, not human beings.
What happens when you get bitten by a white-tailed spider?
Most spiders, such as the white-tailed spider, don’t want to bite you. “They will only bite if provoked,” says Geoff.
In the 2003 study, 95 per cent of the bites investigated occurred indoors, and 75 per cent between 4pm and 8am.
The preferred hiding spots of white-tailed spiders are between pieces of fabric. Two-thirds of bite victims found the spiders nestled in bedclothes, towels, and clothing. (So it’s a good idea to shake out your sheets and towels if you’re afraid of spiders!)
If you do get bitten by a white-tailed spider, the symptoms are similar to those of a bee sting: an immediate burning sensation in the local area, followed by mild swelling and an itchy red mark.
Geoff and co-author Michael Gray – a spider expert at the Australian Museum – concluded in their 2003 study that the symptoms of a white-tailed spider bite follows three patterns: pain only, pain and a red mark lasting less than 24 hours, or pain and an irritating red lesion lasting from 5-12 days.
Eighty-three per cent of the spider bites resulted in a red mark. Out of the 130 cases in the study, none resulted in necrotic ulcers.
Pain and discomfort occurred in all cases, but only 27 per cent of cases reported “severe” pain, which was classified in the study as “pain greater than a bee sting or equivalent”.
Another study inThe Medical Journal of Australia in 1989 tested and identified eight white-tailed spider bites, and the results concluded that the bite caused only local swelling, mild pain, and itchiness and either no systemic symptoms, or anxiety.
Are white-tail spiders dangerous?
So, are white-tailed spiders the flesh-rotting monsters that gory internet memes and chain emails would have you believe? There is no evidence to prove this. In fact, referencing the two studies mentioned above, there is good evidence to suggest the opposite.
Despite this, myths surrounding the white-tailed spider persist, and the media often fuels the fire. A recent story involving the white-tailed spider on 5 April 2017 broadcasted a misleading headline of: “Father-of-two loses legs after a white-tailed spider bite”, even though there was no evidence the spider caused the infection.
Although this myth was debunked by experts shortly after the articles surfaced, the public was still rattled by the possible association, andmisleading headlines continued, which only perpetuated fear.
“This association remains despite no significant evidence to support the involvement of spiders in necrotic ulcers,” said Geoff in a 2004 article in The Lancet, called“Necrotic arachnidism: the mythology of a modern plague“.
Alarmingly, it isn’t just the public and media that are adhering to a false association between the white-tailed spider and necrotic ulcers – it is also occurring in modern medical practices.
The misdiagnosis of a white-tailed spider bite is common in the medical community, according to Geoff. Another study he co-authored in 2004 investigated nine patients who had received diagnoses of either a white-tail spider bite or ‘necrotic arachnidism’ – a flesh-eating spider bite. In all nine of the cases, the researchers found the patients had been misdiagnosed. White-tailed spider bites were not responsible for any of the infections.
“The medical community is by no means immune to the myth of necrotic arachnidism and is responsible for its persistence by not questioning the evidence or investigating necrotic ulcers in the same way as any other disorder,” said Geoff.
How did the white-tailed spider myths start?
The remaining question is, how did these myths endure over the past 20 years, despite the obvious lack of evidence?
The false case studies date all the way back to 1987, when an Australian patient was diagnosed with necrotic arachnidism after developing severe ulceration. This, like all other cases, was a misdiagnosis.
However, the establishment of spider phobia in the media and now even in some GPs goes well beyond a few false case studies. The unfounded fear of spiders has influenced cultural mythology since the dawn of time, according to Geoff.
“The diagnosis of a spider bite continues to be based mainly on suspicion and fear of spiders,” he said.
This fear is largely irrational – only two of Australia’s 10,000-plus spider species are dangerous. In fact, spider bites are less life-threatening than snakes, sharks and bees.
What should you do if you get bitten by a white-tailed spider?
Rule number one: it may be painful, but do not panic. Of the 130 patients in the 2003 study, zero needed to be admitted to the hospital after the bite.
Always clean the site of your bite. The most common treatment for white-tailed spider bites is icepacks to reduce the swelling. Other than that, there are no other necessary first-aid treatments, says Geoff, “except to make sure your tetanus shot is up to date like any spider bite or wound”.
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TAGS dangerousspidersvenomouswhite tailwhite tail spiderwhite-tailed
What happens if you get bitten by a white-tail spider? ›
White-tailed Spider bites can cause initial burning pain followed by swelling and itchiness at the bitten area. Occasionally, there are unconfirmed reports of weals, blistering or local ulceration - conditions known medically as necrotising arachnidism.What draws poison out of a spider bite? ›
Peroxide and rubbing alcohol are great for treating bites; they are necessary for disinfectant purposes. Use baking soda, bleach, and water to neutralize the spider venom. Mix equal parts of each and stir until the solution has formed.How big is a white-tail spider? ›
Description. The white-tailed spider has a long cigar-shaped, dark grey abdomen with a creamy-white speck on the tip. The legs usually have a brownish hue. A large female may reach up to 20mm in body length, males around 12mm.Do Daddy Long Legs eat white tails? ›
Once wrapped the daddy long legs can bite the white-tail and feed on it safely.Why do white tails come inside? ›
They are also known to move indoors in the winter to seek shelter from the cold and there they find plenty of their favourite prey; grey house spiders. The White Tail spider often hides in clothing and shoes, especially if they have been left lying on the floor.Should you pop a spider bite? ›
Another common reaction to many spider bites is "weeping" blisters at the site (they look puffy and fluid-filled). Small blisters on their own, with no other symptoms, don't necessarily need special care. But if a blister opens, it becomes at risk for infection, says Dr. Arnold, so don't try to pop them!Is hydrogen peroxide good for spider bites? ›
Wash the bite area with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing. You may cover the bite with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a non-stick bandage. Apply more petroleum jelly and replace the bandage as needed.Is Vicks good for spider bites? ›
Spiders, Ants & Ticks
Vicks Vapor Rub® works wonders on not only insect bites, but poison ivy and athletes foot!
After 1 to 2 weeks
For mild bites, you should be mostly healed by 3 weeks or see a drastic reduction in inflammation. But if you have a more severe bite, the spider's toxin will continue to break down the skin, especially if untreated.
The usual white-tailed spider bite can be painful but the initial burning feeling, swelling, redness and itchiness at the bite site usually resolves and there are no long-lasting effects. White-tailed spider bites are not considered venomous to humans.
Are white tails aggressive? ›
White-tailed spiders are not aggressive, and tend to bite if they are provoked or startled. The spider often bites more than once almost as if it is "tasting" potential prey. Symptoms include immediate stinging pain, a red itchy lump, swelling, discolouration, blistering, ulceration, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting.How do you keep White Tail spiders away? ›
Spraying oils made from garden herbs often can help remove these pest. Eucalyptus, tea tree or even peppermint oils might keep the spiders out. While some might enjoy the smell, White tailed spiders do not. Spray a watered down version of an essential oil around windows and doors.What season do white tail spiders come out? ›
White tail spiders are more common in summer and autumn, when the numbers of other spiders on which they feed (such as black house spiders) are at their peak. They are also more common inside during the warmer months to escape the heat.Where do white-tails get their venom? ›
White-tailed deer, the smallest members of the North American deer family, are found from southern Canada to South America. In the heat of summer they typically inhabit fields and meadows using clumps of broad-leaved and coniferous forests for shade.How long does it take for a white-tail spider bite to show up? ›
The average duration of symptoms tends to be around 24 hours, but the time taken for symptoms to disappear can vary. Some people only experience symptoms for an hour or two, whereas others may have symptoms (such as a painful red mark on the skin) that last for up to a week.Where do white tip spiders nest? ›
The spiders like to hide beneath bark, rocks, plant litter, in gardens and within tight spaces inside of homes.Can white tail spiders climb? ›
White-tailed spider (Lampona murina, family Lamponidae)
Slender grey spider with small white spot at the end of the body; young spiders also have diagonal bars on side of body. Lampona cylindrata. Not able to climb glass. Leg span up to 5 cm.
White-tailed spiders are spiders native to southern and eastern Australia, and so named because of the whitish tips at the end of their abdomens. The body size is up to 18 mm, with a leg-span of 28 mm. Common species are Lampona cylindrata and Lampona murina. Both these species have been introduced into New Zealand.What attracts spiders in your room? ›
Spiders are not attracted to light. However, like any other animal, they are attracted to food. Since other insects gravitate toward lights, the spiders will follow them there. Any light that attracts flying insects is a prime spot for spiders.Can I put Neosporin on a spider bite? ›
Most spider bites can be treated at home by following these steps: Wash the bite area with warm, soapy water. Apply an antibiotic cream (one brand name: Neosporin) to help prevent infection. Put ice or a cool washcloth on the bite to help reduce swelling.
What insect bite leaves a hole in your skin? ›
What they look like: If you've got two tiny puncture marks on your skin (or see a spider crawling away), you are probably dealing with a spider bite. Redness and swelling at the site of the bite are also common.Can you put toothpaste on a spider bite? ›
She says that as soon as possible after discovering a bite rub a little toothpaste on the affected area and the itch and pain will disappear in no time, and any swelling will be reduced.Is triple antibiotic ointment good for spider bites? ›
To take care of a spider bite: Clean the wound with mild soap and water. Then apply an antibiotic ointment three times a day to help prevent infection.Is calamine lotion good for spider bites? ›
Soothe them all with an ice cube, a cold washcloth, calamine lotion, a paste of baking soda, or an over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment. For mosquito or other minor bites, try calamine lotion.Is turmeric good for spider bite? ›
Turmeric. Another food-based home remedy for spider bites is Turmeric. Turmeric is a root that belongs in the ginger family, used to flavor food, and has become quite common in people's kitchens. Apart from giving food flavor, turmeric is also a potent anti-inflammatory.How do you prevent spider bites while sleeping? ›
Move your bed away from the wall and furniture and avoid putting anything under your bed. Always shake your pillows, bed sheet, and blanket before going to your bed. For the record, spiders are not insects but rather arachnids. They have eight legs, and they don't have antennae.Does baking soda work on spider bites? ›
Baking Soda. Creating a paste with baking soda is one of the most cost-effective ways to treat both venomous and non-venomous spider bites. This solution helps to relieve your symptoms, like itching, pain and stinging sensations, significantly.What spider is the most poisonous? ›
Brazilian wandering spider
The Guinness Book of World Records considers the Brazilian wandering spider the most venomous in the world. Hundreds of bites are reported annually, but a powerful anti-venom prevents deaths in most cases.
Bed bugs. It's no surprise that a creature called a bed bug is one of the insects most likely to bite you while you're sleeping. Entomologist and pest control expert Ryan Smith says bed bugs are probably the most common nocturnal bug and they love hiding out in your mattress.Can a spider bite you 3 times? ›
“Spiders rarely bite more than once.” If you wake up with many welts, it is more likely that you have bed bugs, fleas, a bacterial infection, or something else entirely.
How long can spiders live? ›
While many common house spiders live a few years some can survive up to seven years. Tarantulas, on the other hand, can live into their 20s. The arachnid with the longest known lifespan prior to Number 16 was a 28-year-old tarantula found in Mexico.Are daddy long legs poisonous? ›
Daddy long legs, also known as cellar spiders, contain venom and possess fangs, but there has been no evidence of their fangs being too short to cut through human skin or of their venoms being deadly and poisonous to humans. In reality, daddy long legs are not poisonous or dangerous to humans and are not known to bite.How did White tails get to NZ? ›
This Australian spider was first recorded in NZ in 1886, at Waiwera, Auckland. It is believed that it came into the country with early colonists and is now well established throughout the North Island. Another species Lampona cylindrata (Koch. L) is also known from Nelson and has recently been found in Christchurch.Are White Tail spiders harmful to dogs? ›
Some spiders, like the White tail and the Orb spider, has the potential to cause Necrotising Arachnidism; where the spider bite causes the death of cells in an organ or tissue. Other spiders may cause localised swelling, ulceration, joint pain or mild illness, and.Can White Tail spiders hurt cats? ›
Be aware of the Red back spider, White Tail spiders and Brown Recluse spider – if your cat is bitten by one of these they could experience drooling, vomiting, intense pain, shivering, a wobbly gait, laboured breathing, fever and paralysis. In this case take your cat to the vet immediately.Is a white spider poisonous? ›
Are White Spiders Venomous? White spiders are venomous, which is a characteristic trait of all species of spiders. The spiders use their venom to kill prey by injecting it with their mouthparts. However, most white spiders are not harmful to humans because they only inject a relatively small amount of venom.Do white-tail spider bites cause necrosis? ›
cause minor effects in most cases, or a persistent painful red lesion in almost half the cases. White-tail spider bites are very unlikely to cause necrotic ulcers, and other diagnoses must be sought.Can you get spider repellent? ›
Fill a spray bottle with water and 10-15 drops of peppermint essential oil and spray in places spiders tend to hide—under furniture, in closets, and in other corners and crevices of your house. In addition, add a couple drops of peppermint oil to a cotton ball and keep in those areas.
Redback spiders, found throughout Australia, love places that are dark, dry and warm. It's common to find them inside children's toys like Tonka trucks that are left out in the back yard and sand pits. Inside shoes or garden sheds, letterboxes and cubbies are also places redback spiders are found.What is the white stuff that comes out of spiders? ›
The silk is liquid when it's inside the spider. ' Before it is extruded out of the spinneret, cribellate silk first passes through a sieve-like structure called the cribellum.
What happens if a brown recluse bite goes untreated? ›
Brown recluse bites can cause redness, itchiness, pain and wounds. If the wound is untreated, it could lead to bruising, a blister, an open sore and scarring.What does a spider bite look like? ›
Typically, a spider bite looks like any other bug bite — a red, inflamed, sometimes itchy or painful bump on your skin — and may even go unnoticed. Harmless spider bites usually don't produce any other symptoms. Many skin sores look the same but have other causes, such as a bacterial infection.How many babies does a white-tail spider have? ›
The female white-tail lays around 80-100 pink eggs in a silk sack and guards the 'nest' until the spiderlings emerge. On hatching, the little spiders disperse to find their first meal.How old do Whitetails live? ›
Most white-tailed deer live about 2 to 3 years. Maximum life span in the wild is 20 years but few live past 10 years old.Do white tails eat Daddy Long Legs? ›
White-tailed spiders eat daddy long leg spiders. It may happen occasionally, but although the small-bodied, spindly-legged daddy-long-legs don't look a match for the more powerful looking white-tails, the daddy-long-legs can wrap the white-tail up in silk using its long legs so as to not get too close.What draws poison out of a spider bite? ›
Peroxide and rubbing alcohol are great for treating bites; they are necessary for disinfectant purposes. Use baking soda, bleach, and water to neutralize the spider venom. Mix equal parts of each and stir until the solution has formed.What to do if a white tail bites you? ›
In most cases, the bite from a white tailed spider only causes a mild reaction, including itching and skin discolouration, which usually resolves after a few weeks. There are no specific first aid treatments for a white tailed spider bite, except the use of icepacks to help relieve the swelling.What happens when a white-tail spider bites you? ›
White-tailed Spider bites can cause initial burning pain followed by swelling and itchiness at the bitten area. Occasionally, there are unconfirmed reports of weals, blistering or local ulceration - conditions known medically as necrotising arachnidism.How do you tell if you have been bitten by a white tail spider? ›
Bites. The usual white-tailed spider bite can be painful but the initial burning feeling, swelling, redness and itchiness at the bite site usually goes and there are no long-lasting effects. White-tailed spider bites are not considered poisonous to humans.How long does it take for a white-tail spider bite to show up? ›
The average duration of symptoms tends to be around 24 hours, but the time taken for symptoms to disappear can vary. Some people only experience symptoms for an hour or two, whereas others may have symptoms (such as a painful red mark on the skin) that last for up to a week.
Why are there so many white tail spiders in my house? ›
White tailed spiders love to hide in dark and neglected places, and any leftover food will attract insects that will in turn attract more spiders. Vacuuming or dusting away cobwebs and egg sacs will make spiders less eager to return.Are white tails aggressive? ›
White-tailed spiders are not aggressive, and tend to bite if they are provoked or startled. The spider often bites more than once almost as if it is "tasting" potential prey. Symptoms include immediate stinging pain, a red itchy lump, swelling, discolouration, blistering, ulceration, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting.Can you put vinegar on a spider bite? ›
Hedge apples or apple cider vinegar are great for getting rid of spider and brown recluses and for healing their bites.Do spiders bite more than once? ›
Spiders rarely bite more than once so multiple bites are usually caused by insects such as fleas, bedbugs, ticks, mites and biting flies.