How Dangerous Are White-Tail Spiders?
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.
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 is 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 above 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.
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 house spiders
* Avoid putting hands where spiders may be hiding (e.g., behind furniture)
Can White Tails Kill You?
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 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
What would you do if you saw a white-tail spider?
Kayla on January 04, 2016:
I have achronophobia (if that's how you spell it) and I was home ALONE, I was watching T.V and BOOM. I saw a white tail. I tried to kill it but I was to freaked out, so I let it crawl around the house while I was in a different room. I'm so scared of these creepy crawlies. Good thing I'm in New Zealand, where there is not much dangerous spiders but the white tails freak me out.
anonymous on July 17, 2014:
Very interesting lens but as an arachnophobic it was very hard for me to even look at the pictures. Important that people are aware of these dangerous spiders.
TanoCalvenoa on May 19, 2014:
This is so interesting. I love spiders, but I do kill black widows around my home here in Southern California because they are extremely venomous. Other spiders I leave alone.
Rhonda Albom (author) from New Zealand on January 01, 2014:
@sunriseblue lm: I hate finding them in the house. My daughter actually got bit out in the bush, not in the house.
sunriseblue lm on December 25, 2013:
Nice lens! I've seen them a few times around my house and quickly got rid of them but have never been bitten... I had head that they are one of our few poisonous spiders but wasn't sure how dangerous they were, so this was very informative!
bornot2b1 on May 01, 2013:
I'm glad I found this lens. Poisonous or not, from now on, I will kill (these spiders) first ask questions later. (Never seen one before I think, but I will be more alert from now on!).
carocwn on February 18, 2013:
I hate white tails, having come across a few:) Great lens.
AlleyCatLane on February 12, 2013:
I hate spiders of all kinds! Creepy!!!
pinkhoodie on January 12, 2013:
I don't like white tail spiders.
Rhonda Albom (author) from New Zealand on November 27, 2012:
@Elle-Dee-Esse: Lucky for us, it is distinctive and the only real thing to worry about.
Lynne Schroeder from Blue Mountains Australia on November 26, 2012:
You've had more encounters with one there in NZ than I have here in Australia! We have worse spiders to worry about than the white tail but he is still one to be wary of for sure
spider11235813 on November 16, 2012:
I like the spider. Not the kill part.
Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on October 26, 2012:
Nice lens. Glad I haven't seen a white tail spider yet in New Zealand. Must be too cold in Taranaki, or maybe it's because I live in the bush country. Thanks for sharing, now I am aware of them. Blessed.
danniblaze on June 11, 2012:
Cool lens this sounds like a mean spider
russiangifts from USA on April 14, 2012:
Wow, this is very interesting info. Thank you for sharing. I hope, I will not meet this spider, or any of them, for that matter. Brrrrr...
Nancy Carol Brown Hardin from Las Vegas, NV on April 13, 2012:
Spiders are absolutely, to me, the scariest thing there is on earth! Why? I don't know except I've always been terrified of them all my life. That being said, your lens on the white-tailed spider is excellent. I'd like to see you include what is said in the video that isn't exactly right. Blessed by a SquidAngel.
HalloweenRecipes on April 11, 2012:
The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout! I don't like spiders at all, but I do so love the webs they weave.
infiniti99 lm on March 23, 2012:
I'm no fan of spiders and I work outside everyday.Here in the eastern us it's really just brown recluse I worry about.Great lens thank you for sharing.
ForestBear LM on February 13, 2012:
I just killed a white tail spider yesterday in the bathroom and just wanted to check on the facts and then I found this great resource. Thank you! Spiders really freak me out :-)
Ben Reed from Redcar on January 30, 2012:
So informative and a great read.
Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on January 26, 2012:
Spiders just give me the creeps, but I had to visit this page. I remember us having a conversation about a year or so ago about this very spider. He wouldn't have to bite me, he would scare me to death :)
Helene-Malmsio on January 13, 2012:
I know that we have redback spiders in my home, I've killed so many of them - and I've been told by someone they saw a whitetail as well - arrrgh!
Darcie French from Abbotsford, BC on November 29, 2011:
Excellent information on the white tail spider, what the bite does and how to treat it. Thank-you for sharing and the presentation is lovely. Angel blessed.
JanieceTobey on November 06, 2011:
Wow, I'm glad your daughter made it through the experience ok! That's great that you were able to find a solution that didn't involve several days of hospitalization!
JoshK47 on October 17, 2011:
Spooky critters... spiders make my skin crawl. Great lens! :)
anonymous on October 06, 2011:
I can't for the life of me figure out why the guy in the video kept putting his finger so close to the white tailed spider spider. This is a very crafty spider and quite the actor and hunter, its rather novel to use yourself as bait. I'm assuming it doesn't seek out human contact but bites when surprised by a hand in its space. That was quite the treatment your daughter went through and it sounds like your home remedy of the honey was effective in having not having to go through a more invasive treatment. The spider drawing is quite impressive!
anonymous on September 14, 2011:
very well laid out lens. well done. This caught my eye. Really relieved your daughters ok x
whiteskyline lm on September 10, 2011:
OK, my skin is crawling now lol. When I was 12, I came home to my nana's with a redback I had found in the backyard...straight to the zoo we went lol. She thought they may like it, and wanted it far away.
I have heard of that honey, something I will be looking into, as it just sounds all around good. Raw organic honey in general, but I have heard specifically of that type. Glad your daughter was OK, that must have been scary.
dahlia369 on September 02, 2011:
Nicely done and great resource. Blessed! :)
Showpup LM on September 02, 2011:
Wonderfully presented information. I'm a total arachnophobe. You had me hanging on every word. Couldn't bring myself to watch the video, though. ;-)
Jeanette from Australia on August 14, 2011:
Just returning to add a little angel blessing and to let you know that this lens has been added to my animal alphabet lens.
EcoGecko LM on June 24, 2011:
Wow I was under the impression that there wasn't anything poisonous in NZ I guess they don't really want to promote that much thinking about it it would be really strange if there isn't while located near to Australia.
Tiggered on June 03, 2011:
Fantastic video! And a nice lens
JeremiahStanghini on March 24, 2011:
Looks pretty scary to me...
With Love and Gratitude,
anonymous on March 22, 2011:
Thank you for the cool lens on spiders. I still dislike them immensely.
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on March 17, 2011:
I'm glad I didn't see any of these when I visited New Zealand. Your daughter is a good artist and this is has lots of good information with a personal touch. Blessings on it and I'm adding it to The Best Insect Pages on Squidoo.
anonymous on December 02, 2010:
Maa-noo-kaa would be more precise. I had never heard of this spider being in NZ, so I assume it arrived after I left. There was a scare at one point about 20 years ago when redbacks made their way from Australia in shipping containers and there was an outrage at that, and quite rightly so. One of the most enjoyable things about New Zealand is that it DOESN'T have a bunch of dangerous animals/insects, and so I am disappointed that this damn spider has taken up residence. Hey, Rhonda, had the pleasure of a Weta yet? In my opinion they are the ugliest things I have ever had the misfortune to be close up to.....yuckkk. Great lens, as always, and always enjoy reading something you write about my beloved home country! (although spiders wouldn't be my first choice....lol).
snazzy lm on December 01, 2010:
This is fascinating thanks! I had heard the white tail spider bite is very dangerous but wasn't aware of the controversy. We love active Manuka honey here too. Fantastic for coughs. How do you pronounce "Manuka" correctly? There is a suburb in Canberra spelt the same but pronounced "Mar-nee-ka" but the health food store owner here pronounces the honey "Man-oo-ka". Cheers for a great lens.
Kathy McGraw from California on October 27, 2010:
Very interesting article on white tail spiders. I had never heard of them nor the honey first aid. Blessed by an Angel.
Wendy Henderson from PA on October 02, 2010:
Now I'm itching all over. I guess that means I don't like spiders very much.
Rhonda Albom (author) from New Zealand on September 28, 2010:
@anonymous: Thanks! He wasn't in my New Zealand bug book. Glad to know he was harmless
anonymous on September 28, 2010:
Hi Rhonda, the other spider is a Suppuna picta or swift/ground spider, they run like the wind and like to sunbathe on decking :) Can bite but harmless.
VillageHut on September 02, 2010:
I don't like spiders.The only spider I can bare to see is the daddy long legs. But other than that. No thanks. I saw white tail outside and squashed it immediately. We have kids running around too. Thanks for the interesting info.
oztoo lm on April 24, 2010:
I hate to say it but spiders really freak me out. I know the white tail spider comes from Australia but I have never seen one. Very informative lens and great presentation. 5*****
anonymous on March 07, 2010:
@ElizabethJeanAl: i am scard of spiders can you show me a picher of a tranchla
thewishpearl on October 23, 2009:
I generally don't mind spiders in the house cause I know they eat other insects that are more of a nuisance. I don't think I would like the white tail spider crawling in my house, however. Very informative lens:)
ElizabethJeanAl on October 18, 2009:
The White Tail sounds as bad if not worse than the black widow. We have black widows around our place. Killing them all off is next to impossible. They don't scare me so much but if I come face to face with a Brown Recluse, I'll run screaming.
Awesome lens. Five Stars and rolled to Black Widow Spiders
Thanks for sharing and thanks so much for the blessing. I appreciate it.
Rhonda Albom (author) from New Zealand on October 16, 2009:
[in reply to prosperity66] I didn't know there was a legend about no spiders here. Before we came I had heard that there are cobwebs everywhere - they were right. The legend I heard was no dangerous spiders - Hmmmm?.
Cheryl Kohan from England on October 16, 2009:
Those things are really scary looking! I'd have had a heart attack if I'd found on in my hair! Normally I'm not afraid of spiders...I do not like bugs and spiders get rid of bugs so that's good. You sure did do a great job on this lens!
justholidays on October 16, 2009:
Eeeeeeek! You just broke the legend that says there are no spiders in NZ! Great lens anyway.
Jeanette from Australia on October 16, 2009:
Great lens! Yes we do see them here in Sydney, Australia and they always get squished ... just in case.
norma-holt on October 16, 2009:
Nicely done lens 5* and fav
Deb Kingsbury from Flagstaff, Arizona on October 16, 2009:
Oh, ew! Okay, I respect spiders, and they certainly have their important place in the world ... as long as they're not in MY world. Or in my house, my tent, my hair. *shiver* Those are some great photos you have here ... I cringed every time I looked at one! :)
Carol Goss on October 16, 2009:
Great spider lens, I love spiders :)
Beas on September 21, 2009:
That's one creepy spider! Had never heard of it. Don't know if I should thank you for pointing its existence out to me ;)
I will feature your lens on my Manuka Honey lens too.
Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on September 17, 2009:
I had never heard of the White Tail Spider and hope I never see one. Lensrolling to my Writing Spider lens.
missbat on September 14, 2009:
Although spiders provide great services to humans, they still creep me out! Have lensrolled this to my David Bowie spider lens. You've done a wonderful job on this lens!
Rhonda Albom (author) from New Zealand on September 11, 2009:
[in reply to puzzlemaker] Lol - I didn't have time to freak out, I was too busy looking up the phone number for an exterminator!
puzzlerpaige on September 11, 2009:
Very informative lens. Hadn't heard of this spider. We have the brown recluse here (as you mentioned) to be weary of.
You had one in your hair? I would have totally freaked out. Good thing y'all got him before he bit.
Michey LM on September 09, 2009:
Wow! this is informative, spiders can be dangerous, I hate them. The more we know, the better
Dianne Loomos on September 08, 2009:
Oh gosh! Spiders give me the creeps! Shudder...