Over the years white-tailed spider bites have been blamed for severe skin deterioration and ulceration in some victims. Dr Julian White believes that for most people the bite of a white-tailed spider is a very minor affair, and that a range of spiders including the black house spider and the fiddleback may also be responsible for the ulceration and necrosis. (Necrosis is when cells die due to an interruption of the blood supply to a localised area in the body.) The phenomenon of ulcerating spider bites certainly exists, but there is a problem with identification because in the majority of cases the person bitten does not see or catch the spider responsible. However, the spider victims’ support group says that the white-tailed spider is the culprit and that people need to be more aware of the danger it poses.
The white-tailed spider (Lampona cylindrata) is reddish-brown to black in colour. It is about 1-2.5cm long, with a lemon-pip shaded abdomen and a dull cream spot on the tip of its body. Males and juveniles often have striped legs and two or four spots at the top of the abdomen as well as the one on the tip of the tail.
Where are they found?
White-tailed spiders are found throughout Australia and New Zealand. In the bush they hide under bark, in trees, on the ground and in leaf litter. However they are adaptable to the urban environment and often come inside the house, where they squeeze into tight spaces. They are commonly seen under carpets, running across floors or walls, on curtains, in clothes left lying on the floor and in cracks and small holes.
The bite and its symptoms
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. The bite can also lead to a bacterial infection caused by rotting foodstuffs on the fangs, and there is a possibility of an allergic reaction to the venom. People with existing skin conditions, a circulatory disorder or some other contributory medical condition are more likely to have adverse reactions to a spider bite.
Dr White says that there are no complete answers to the white-tailed spider question. There is no cure, or even a firm diagnosis at this stage. It is thought that treatment in a hyperbaric chamber is helpful because the amount of oxygen around the bite area is increased. However, it is vitally important that victims of spider bites try to locate the spider responsible and keep it for identification, so that doctors can work out which treatments are going to be most effective.
Although it has not been proven that the white-tailed spider is dangerous, caution is recommended. Being aware of the different spiders and being able to recognise them is a sound step towards prevention. Check bedding occasionally, and shake out any clothing that has been left on the floor for any length of time. Also keep the house clean and remove any webs with a broom or vacuum cleaner.
Spider Bite Victims Support Group
Phone: 0405844423 or (08) 8558 2738