Pest ControlTechnical Note
No. 12, October 2006
Department of Human Services
piders belong to Class Arachnida, whichalso includes scorpions, harvestmen, ticksand mites. They have two main bodyparts, eight legs, simple eyes, piercing jaws(fangs), and silk spinning organs. Like insects,spiders have an exoskeleton which is shedperiodically to allow the spider to grow, aprocess known as moulting. Spiders arearachnids not insects. Insects have three mainbody parts, six legs, compound eyes, antennae,and chewing jaws (mandibles).Spiders play an important part in ourenvironment as they are essential to naturalecosystems. Some spider populations arethreatened because of habitat destruction butmany spiders have adapted to live alongsidehumans in houses, sheds and gardens. As theyusually feed on insects they are quite beneficialto humans and very few are harmful.In Australia there are about 2000 describedspider species. Even though most spiders arenot aggressive, they may bite in self defence if frightened, threatened or accidentally touched.Spiders use venom to subdue their prey.Occasionally this venom is used against a humanin defence. Spider fangs are often unable topenetrate the human skin. However, some of those that can may inflict painful and, in rarecases, dangerous bites.Venoms consist of a complex mixture of chemicals of biological origin. For humans thevenom effects may include interference withblood clotting, breakdown of muscle and tissue,paralysis and effects on the cardiorespiratorysystem but most commonly consist of onlylocalised pain and swelling.Redback spiders and Sydney funnelweb spidersare the only two spiders that have caused deathsin Australia in the past. Sydney funnelwebs arenot found in Victoria. An effective antivenom forRedback spiders was introduced in 1956, andone for funnelweb spiders in 1980. There havebeen no deaths in Australia from a confirmedspider bite since then.
Those at greatest risk from a spider bite are thevery young or elderly and those with pre-existingcardiovascular disease.If a funnelweb spider bite is suspected it shouldalways be treated quickly by applying a pressurebandage and immobilising the victim. Applyingpressure is not recommended for redback bitesand often worsens the pain. For other spiderbites the area should be washed with soap andwater and a cold pack applied if the bite ispainful. For most spider bites, no other first aidis necessary.
Medical attention should be soughtfor any suspected funnelweb or redback spiderbite and for any other bite if symptoms developor persist. If possible the spider should be caughtfor positive identification.
Simple measures can be used to limit thenumber of spiders entering the house.Flyscreens can be fitted to windows, and weatherstrips or draft excluders will block their entryunder doors. If trees and bushes are plantedaway from the house this will discourage spidersfrom making burrows close to, and wanderinginto the house.It is important to check clothes, which have beenleft on the floor for spiders. Whilst in thegarden, shoes should be worn and whengardening, long trousers and thick gloves arerecommended. Insecticide spraying is notrecommended for ground-dwelling spiders as it