Red Back Spider

AUSTRALIAN VENOMOUS SPIDERS: STAY SAFE CAMPING OR NOT

I’ve noticed people worry about spiders more when they are camping but are generally more careful about them around the home. Australia’s 2 most deadly spiders are city folk, they either love us humans or we built Sydney on top of their home. From kids to my mum to tourists, it’s common to see someone being careful just in case there is a spider when they are camping but rarely when they’re opening a cupboard in the shed.

SYDNEY FUNNEL-WEB

Did you know that Sydney was created smack bang in the heart of Sydney Funnel-Web Spider habitat? That’s where the majority of them are, all the time, deep inside their tube-like burrow. The moist, wealthy Northern Suburbs of Sydney are Sydney Funnel-Web Spider Central with the population thinning out to zero within a radius of 160 kilometres. So why is it more likely you’ll die from a bite in the Blue Mountains?

Unfortunately for male Sydney Funnel-Web Spiders, they’re driven by DNA to leave their burrow destined to be a ground wanderer for the rest of their life. Those in denser urban areas normally stumble into a structure, made by us of course, that traps them, and it’s downhill from there. Concrete is perfect for trapping wandering male Sydney Funnel-Web Spiders. They wander through a gap into a garage and can’t find their way back out again resulting in death by human or death by starvation. This means the small minority of males that stumble their way out of the urban sprawl are the only ones that live much more than not much of one at all.

That’s why you much more likely to get bitten on the limb by a Sydney Funnel-Web Spider and die in the Blue Mountains than anywhere else – the perfect combination of wandering male Sydney Funnel-Web Spider alive and humans walking trails right into them. That’s the long odds of it.

The females we live among in Sydney don’t turn into wanderers and don’t have the nasty venom. It’s lucky you’ll still be close enough to be airlifted to a hospital for envenomation with a shot of antivenom that’s very effective and you should still feel lucky you got bitten on the leg. If you were bitten directly on the torso, you’ll be dead in about 15 minutes. The venom has more than 40 toxins that do nothing to humans but one that causes a massive electrical overload to the human body’s nervous system before shutting it down.

If your tongue starts twitching in spasms and your mouth feels numb and tingly, you’ve recently been bitten. It will be only another minute or so before your tongue is flicking saliva in volumes from your face like an action pump and your eyes join in the waterworks. Sweating like a water display is your last stand before busting out breakdance style spasming full body in every direction until hypertension and drowning in your own lungs brings an end to your living hell within the hour. The only way to slow this down is by not moving and breathing very slowly so others can save you. Thankfully, bite cases are extremely rare and helicopters can fly.

All Funnel-Web Spider bites should be treated in the same manner, even if you are bitten by another type.

RED-BACK SPIDERS

Redback Spiders are everywhere in Australia, everyone knows that because we’ve all see one at one time unless you grew up in a bubble. Redback Spiders love to live in urban areas too. That’s where they’re the most common. You know it was a Redback Spider because there really is a bright red to orange stripe on the back of the abdomen. The Redback Spider with that mark is shiny black, the size of a pea, a female and deadly both to humans and always to male Redback Spiders (half the size and brown without a mark on the back). Males turn into dinner for females right after copulating. Male Redback Spiders only get to have sex once.

Only the female Redback Spider has venom that will make anything from nauseous to very sick and has killed. The females are the bigger ones at around one centimetre in size. They are very obvious.

Redbacks prefer dry, sheltered areas and are less present in colder months. Because Redback Spiders rarely leave their nests, bites generally only occur when they are disturbed as a defensive mechanism, such as putting your hand directly into a Redback’s web. They are common across Australia but most common in urban areas because what we’ve built offers them better places to make a home. In fact, Redback Spider numbers have been on the increase since European settlers arrived and continue to increase in numbers closer to where we build or make a mess.

Redbacks just love dry, sheltered sites, such as among rocks, in logs, shrubs, junk-piles, sheds, or toilets. You’re more likely to get bitten in a rarely used public toilet, bricks left lying around a garden in the suburbs than you are anywhere else. Don’t disturb their preferred habitat when you are outback and you are pretty well safe.

You’ll know you’ve been bitten within the hour because Redback Spider bites that are rare enough to penetrate the skin are so painful, you will feel like you have been stabbed by a massive needle first before the locus of pain spreads with synchronicity to localised numbness and sweat as the limb goes limp.

Redback Venom is a cocktail of toxins and enzymes, each with its own mission. The numbness is your limb dying, necrosis of the flesh by one, your body starts to haemorrhage from the inside out from another, while another shuts down your kidneys, just to name a few but let’s not leave alpha-latrotoxin, which causes neural pathway overload. From your brain to everywhere in your body, your snapping like billion light bulbs popping at once but can’t do anything but feel so sick and weak to move, while simultaneously vomiting like a fire hydrant. Unfortunately, all of this takes some time to unfold, but fortunately, this whole process can take around 6 hours if you are so unlucky to be that one in a million that actually gets a bite that strong, you’ll live through the torture long enough to get a shot of antivenom.

HOW TO STAY SAFE

• Whether camping or not, think twice about where you are and the habitats of these spiders are before sticking your hand in anywhere
• Watch out in places like toilets and sheds
• Don’t leave your shoes or clothes or boxes or whatever outside of your tent overnight
• Sleep in a quality tent because it won’t have holes they can enter through and they can’t bite through the material
• If you do have to pick something up, do it fast and shake and throw it away first
• Look before you walk or stick your hand in
• Watch out for public toilet seats at park or public garden, the undersides are favourites for Redbacks

 

 


Do you have any experience with spiders while camping? Share your thoughts and advice through the comments section below.

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Martin White
martinw@dinga.com.au

Martin is huge on everything outdoors and is even bigger on driving and technology. He loves boats, new stuff and writing about it.