First discovered around Rockhampton and Bowen areas in Queensland, in 1870, it had long been a theory, that the Redback Spider was an unwitting immigrant. However they have now been given their own genus, as they appear not to be found anywhere else in the world. They cover the entire continent, from east to west, with the exception of dry deserts and the mountains. Closely related to the Black Widow Spider found in several countries, and also the Katipo Spider found in New Zealand, which is the only venomous spider found in that country.
Before the introduction of antivennene in 1956, there were 13 recorded deaths. Since the introduction, there has thankfully been no deaths.
The Redback Spider prefers to inhabit areas that have been disturbed by man, and is rarely found, if ever, in undisturbed bushland areas. In newer suburban areas, it’s not uncommon to find heavily infested areas, and a careful eye must be kept on childrens outside toys, swings, rides etc.
Although no longer considered a danger to life, a bite from a Redback can be painful and distressing, producing localised swelling, sweating and nausea. The venom takes several hours to several days to take full effect, so the urgency to reach antivennene is not so great as that of the Funnelweb Spider bite. Nevertheless, antivennene is essential for the survival of a bite.
The female is the most dangerous, but the male is not considered a threat, as their fangs are so small, they cannot penetrate human skin.
The female is 3 times the size of the small male, she has a shiny black, pea sized
abdomen, with a distinctive stripe on the back. This stripe can be pink, orange, red, or even a grey colour. It’s the stripe that’s important in identification, not the colour of the stripe.
Male Redback Spider
The courtship of the species is a perilous affair for the male Redback. He must approach the female with caution. Usually from
the opposite side of her web. Cautiously stroking and cajolling her into submission. Whereupon, on completion of copulation, the female turns and kills the male and devours him.
She then sets about building her egg sacs, several of them in fact, as many as 8 of them. Into which she can lay up to 300 eggs in each one. She guards these for the period of incubation of 10 to 14 days until they hatch. Normally a female Redback Spider is not aggressive and would rather feign death than bite. However she will attack anything disturbing her egg sacs during this period. After the spiderlings hatch, they stay close to the mother until they have moulted their skeletal shells a few times, before setting off almost fully grown to establish their own areas.
Most bites occur when the spider wanders into clothing, and the article of clothing is disturbed or worn. Bites usually occur when the spider has no escape, such as being crushed against the body in the apparel. The most bites to one person ever recorded was as recently as July 2001. When Darren Meehan, 25, of Alice Springs was bitten 20 times whilst sleeping. The spider had been in his apparel when he retired and bit him during the night. Requiring 16 doses of antivennene to survive the attack, it is the highest number of antivennene injections given to one person, ever recorded. The next being 8 doses to survive the venom. Darren survived the ordeal, which proves the effectiveness of the antivennene.