White Tail Spider - Dangerous or Overrated?
How Dangerous Is It Really?
My daughter was bitten by a white tail spider. It certainly swelled, but did it require the drama that followed? Is this spider really that dangerous?
Like me, the white tail is an immigrant to New Zealand. However, the white tail was not a welcomed visitor. Originating from Australia, this spider is now one of only two dangerous species of spiders found in New Zealand (the other is the Katipo, which is a type of redback).
The beautiful and distinctive white tail only grows to about 17mm, yet is capable of administering a nasty bite. Commonly found in urban areas, I have seen this hunter far too many times.
You can learn a bit about the white tail spider here, along with our story of the drama created when my five year old daughter had a white tail spider bite.
Is the Whitetail Spider New to You?
Had you heard of white tail spiders before today?
New Zealand Spiders
Of the 2,500 kinds of spiders found in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health only recommends avoiding the Katipo (a redback) and the white tail.
White Tails Are Hunters
White tails do not make a web. Instead, they use an existing web to trap and eat other spiders. By acting as if they are trapped in another's web, they are able to lure unsuspecting pray.
Although white tail spiders prefer to live outdoors under bark and plants, they are often found inside people's homes. A favorite hiding location inside of clothing left on the floor.
How To Identify a White Tail
White tails have very distinctive markings and a distinctive shape. I can usually spot one on the ceiling by its shape, even without wearing my glasses. The photo to the right is a classic example of the ones we find in our house. Notice:
- long, slender dark gray body
- pinkish/orange and black striped legs
- white mark at the end of the abdomen
- pale/white patches, which always look to me like horizontal stripes (these fade with age)
There are two species of white tails found in New Zealand, and both originated in Australia. They look very similar without a microscope. They are not huge, with males growing to 12mm and females to 17mm in length.
A Drawing from My Daughter
Our White Tail Bite Experience
We had only been in New Zealand about six months, and we still lived with the illusion that there was nothing harmful here. My daughter, then five, showed me an “itchy, painful bug bite” on the back of her hand. A few hours later the puffy red spot had expanded out to cover much of the back of her hand. By morning, her little fingers we puffed to the first knuckle and the swelling was down to the wrist, so we went straight to the doctor.
There we were told that it was a “white tail spider bite” and that it may need a three-day antibiotic drip in hospital. I asked for a less invasive option, and the doctor took a permanent marker and outlined the swelling (across her fingers and wrist). Put her on an oral antibiotic, an antihistamine, and put her arm in a sling – elevating her hand above her heart. We were given four hours to return, and if the swelling was receding, we could continue with that treatment, otherwise it was off to hospital for us. We added a layer of active UMF manuka honey and waited. Four hours later we returned to the doctor to find a mild improvement. Her wound was dressed and put back in a sling, and we had to return twice a day for three days for a check.
It was just after she was cleared that my husband found a white tail spider in my hair. Very shortly after that we had the exterminator out.
Manuka Honey Brought Down the Swelling
We used UMF active Manuka honey on Melissa's hand. It is an amazing New Zealand honey, known for its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, and anti-allergic healing properties. We not only used it on Melissa's hand, but we also use it on itchiness, wounds and minor burns, plus we eat a small amount when we have a sore throat or feel a cold coming on.
When purchasing, we always look for the UMF label and we always buy an activation of at least 15+. They say the healing properties are effective at UMF 10+.
How to Avoid White Tail Bites
* Kill any that you see
* Eliminate their food source by removing webs of the
* Avoid putting hands where spiders may be hiding like behind furniture
White Tail Spider Taxonomy
The White Tail Spider Bite Debate
As we know first hand (no pun intended here), white tail spiders do bite. Most of the reports I have read agree that the bite is immediately painful, with burning, swelling, redness and itchiness at the bite site.
After this there are differing opinions. Current scientific research indicates that for most people the white tail spider bite will cause little harm, as the venom is not poisonous to humans. Although some bite sites may develop into a small wound, these generally heal inside a week.
A contrasting view reported in both New Zealand and Australia media attributes necrotising arachnidism (destroyed skin) to the white tail spider. However, in most of cases, the offending spider was not found, so there is no evidence that the necrotic ulcers are from a white tail spider bite. Whereas, an Australian study of 130 white tail spider bite patients (who captured the spider) resulted in neither infections nor necrotic ulcers. New Zealand conducted similar research with the same result.
No wonder many New Zealander's fear the white tail spider like those in other countries fear the black widow or brown recluse.
Some General (and Interesting) Spider Facts:
- Spiders can be found nearly everywhere, although they don't live in Antarctica.
- With a a body size of 10cm and a leg span of 25cm goliath bird-eater (a tarantula) is the largest spider in the world. It lives in the rainforests of Central America.
- New Zealand's largest spider is the cave spider with a body size of only 3cm and a leg span of about 13cm.
- In contrast, the world's smallest spider is less than 1/2 mm long and lives in Samoa.
- All spiders are carnivorous and their most common prey are insects.
- Almost all spiders use venom (injected through the fangs) to paralyze their prey before they start feeding.
- Spiders feed on liquids and cannot take in solid food. They mix digestive fluid with the prey's tissue and suck up the partially digested nutrients.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2009 Rhonda Albom