Types of Spiders in Australia

There are many types of spiders in Australia.

Australia is famous as a country of dangerous snakes, sharks and crocodiles, and of course, the deadly spiders.

But in reality, only 17 species of Australia’s 70 families of spiders are dangerous to us, and even though many of them live in close proximity to humans, some in our homes and gardens, human fatalities from spider bites are seldom heard. Neither has Australia got the biggest spider in the world, or any flesh eating spiders. Identifying spiders is not easy, but here are some pictures of spiders, and facts about deadliest spiders and common spiders in Australia.

Black and Yellow Spider, Argiope Bruennichi, Magnetic Island, Queensland, Australia
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Many Types of Spiders - The Deadliest Spiders in Australia

Australia's many types of spiders are classified as either primitive or modern spiders. The group of primitive spiders consists of 10 families and 241 species. Primitive spiders live underground and only males are seen above the ground when they go out of their burrows to forage once darkness has fallen. Primitive spiders rely on crawling insects to stumble into their capture range, and they usually stay close to their burrow entrance. They have poor eyesight compared to modern spiders, and they have not evolved the silken snare to build a web – probably because of their very long generation turnover – they can live for 20 years. Modern spiders rarely live longer than for two years, and the quick generation turnover allows them to evolve evolutionary adaptations much quicker. Advantages of living underground are protection from floods and bushfires.

Spider at Burrow Entrance on Sand Dune
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Many Types of Spiders: Funnel Web Spiders and Mouse Spiders

Australian primitive spiders include 81 species of trapdoors and 35 species of funnel-webs. Both groups look similar but funnel web spiders are mostly blue-black while trapdoor spiders are mostly brown; and trapdoor spiders prefer dryer areas while funnel web spiders like moist habitats. Another difference is that trapdoor spiders are shy and run away when approached, while funnel web spiders are very aggressive. Only five species of Australian primitive spiders are dangerous to humans: Sydney Funnel Web Spider is the most dangerous of them. Sydney Funnel Web spiders (Atrax robustus) live in eastern parts of Australia, particularly in New South Wales where they are very common on the coast between Newcastle and Nowra. Sydney Funnel Web Spider is deadly to humans and probably the deadliest spider in the world – it possesses the most dangerous toxins to humans (along with the Blue-ringed Octopus) – neurotoxins. Sydney Funnel Web Spiders lives in moist forests but also in soil beneath houses, between garden rocks, and sometimes compost heaps. When agitated, it attacks aggressively so gloves and boots are recommended when working in the garden during the summer and autumn. The Blue Mountains Funnel Web Spider (Hadronyche versutus) is similar to Sydney Funnel Web in appearance, but it is restricted to the Blue Mountains area west of Sydney. It is hasn’t caused any fatalities, but probably only because it lives in less populated areas – it is almost as toxic as the Sydney Funnel-web and is regarded dangerous. Northern Tree Funnel Web Spider (Hadronyche formidabilis) is much larger than Sydney and Blue Mountains Funnel Webs – it is 50mm long and lives in trees, sometimes as high as 30m from the ground. It hasn’t caused any fatalities but it is considered highly dangerous to humans, particularly kids. Northern Tree Funnel-web likes mountainous country and is found in rainforest pockets and heavily timbered forests in northern New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland, particularly in the Hunter River Valley. Mouse Spider (Actinopodidae sp.) is named after the extraordinary depth of its burrows – few other spiders dig 1m down the ground! Mouse Spiders will attempt to bite when provoked, and although no fatalities are known, they carry poison dangerous to humans. Red Headed Mouse Spider (Missulena insigne) is Australia’s most beautifully coloured primitive spider – males have got a red head and a blue abdomen. They are considered dangerous to humans and their bites have caused serious illness and coma.

A Close View of a Large Huntsman Spider, Heteropoda Species
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Many Types of Spiders: White Tailed Spider and Fiddle Back Spider
Australian modern spiders are divided into four groups: open-range hunters (853 species, 45% of Australian spiders), ambushers and anglers (200 species, 10% of Australian spiders), apprentice weavers (270 species, 14% of Australian spiders) and master weavers (340 species, 17% of Australian spiders). The open range hunters live on ground level – under rocks and bark, in low foliage and waterways. They are mostly nocturnal, and as opposed to the primitive spiders’ “wait-and-grab”-strategy, they take the initiative to find and hunt prey. The open range hunters include sac spiders, wolf spiders, nursery web spiders, huntsman spiders, jumping spiders and spitting spiders. The dangerous ones include the infamous White Tailed Spider (Lampona cylindrata), Garden Wolf Spider (Lycosa godeffroyi), Northern Green Jumping Spider (Mopsus mormon), two species of huntsman piders (Neosparassus calligaster and Neosparassus punctuatus), two families of sac spiders (Miturga sp and Cheiracanthium spp.) and two introduced species – Dysderids (Dysdera crocota) and the highly venomous Fiddle Back Spider (Loxosceles sp.). There are no known fatalities from any of them, but many are considered highly venomous and others cause headaches, swelling, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscular pain, nausea and necrotic sores (necrosis means death of tissue).

Spider in the Centre of Its Web
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Many Types of Spiders: Crab Spiders and Triangular Spiders
Ambushers and anglers are a group of about 200 species of mostly nocturnal spiders that live in shrubbery, flowers and tree trunks – where insects are active. They include crab spiders (Thomisidae sp.) that exploit flowers; triangular spiders (Araneidae sp.) that wait for the prey in foliage; orchard spiders, (Leucauge venusta), bolas (Araneidae sp.) and mimicking spiders that mimicry on tree trunks; and net-casting spiders (Deinopidae sp.) that construct silken nets which they cast over their prey. All of the many types of spiders in this group are totally non poisonous and harmless to humans.

Spider Web, Australia
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Many Types of Spiders - Australian Red Back Spider and Black House Spider
Apprentice weavers include many types of spiders like lace-webs, lattice-webs, tangle-webs and wheel-webs that live in medium-height foliage: in shrubs, tree stumps, rock ledges and sandstone caves. They have developed a kind of silken snare to catch their prey and the bulk of their diet is flying insects. Apprentice weavers’ snares are usually complicated three-dimensional structures which don’t only help to catch the prey but also provide protection from predators. There are a few spiders in this group that are dangerous to humans. Black House Spider (Badumna insignis) is known to be found at the corners of windowpanes where it catches insects attracted to the light on the window screen. They are not lethal but can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, muscular pains and chills. The infamous Red back spider (Latrodectus hasseltii) is not aggressive, but its venom has proved fatal. Medical aid should be called immediately and while waiting for the ambulance, victims are asked the impossible task to remain calm to slow the spreading of the poison.

Spider Web
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Many Types of Spiders - Golden Orb Weaver Spider and St Andrews Cross Spider
While the apprentice weavers pioneered the snare evolution, master weavers are the masters of webs, and the masters of spider evolution. They are by far the most successful spiders when it comes to time and energy, having been able to abandon hunting and developing poison - instead they build their webs in insect flight paths and wait for the insects to fly in there. The two-dimensional webs are perfectly designed with a symmetrical wheel in the centre which allows the spider that sits in the hub, immediately feel when an insect touches any part of the web. The design also allows large areas with minimal silk, and the pattern of geometric radii allows the spider to quickly move across the web while making minimal contact with it. Master weavers are also advanced communicators – they have a vocabulary of signals which they transmit across the web by strumming, plucking and shaking, and most amazingly - when two wheel-weawing spiders were taken to America’s Skylab to see if they could build their webs without gravity, they did it effortlessly. Australian master weawers are Golden Orb Weaver Spider (Nephiliane spp.), St Andrews Cross Spider (Argiope keyserlingi), Spiny (Gasteracantha spp.) and Wheel Weaving Garden Spider (Eriophora transmarine). All of the many types of spiders in this group are non poisonous spiders and completely harmless to humans.

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