The redback spider can cause painful bites and is potentially fatal to humans. (Credit: Getty)

Australian spiders: the 10 most dangerous

  • BY Clémentine Thuilier |
  • August 16, 2012

Australian spiders have a fearsome reputation, but our bees typically pose more of a threat. Here are the worst.

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SPIDERS TEND TO INCITE more fear than favour and even provoke phobias for some. And many a visitor to our shores has been more than a little worried about our venomous eight-legged friends.

It's true that we have some of the most venomous spiders in the world - but Australia's spider reputation is bigger than its bite: records show no deaths from spider bites here since 1981.

"The fact is that, from a human perspective, spiders just aren't that dangerous" says Dr Aaron Harmer, arachnid researcher Macquarie University. "While many spiders can give you a nip, in most cases it is less troublesome than a bee sting."

Spiders less dangerous than bees

Spiders are the most widely distributed venomous creatures in Australia, with an estimated 10,000 species inhabiting a variety of ecosystems. But even though spiders live around us, from our urban centres to the bush, bites are infrequent. In fact, spiders are less life-threatening than snakes or sharks, or even bees.

"There are more deaths from allergic reactions to bees" says Dr Geoff Isbister, a researcher specialised in envenoming at the University of Newcastle. He points out the extent of our irrational fear of spiders: "While we all still happily get in our cars (about 1000 people die each year in car crashes), then we can't really worry about spiders."

Antivenom for two of our more dangerous spiders, the funnel-web and the redback has been available since the 1950s and 1981, respectively. It is only administered when the envenomation is really severe, which is rarely the case.

Spider venom contains a cocktail of chemicals, some of which can be harmful to humans - but humans are not really the intended victims. Spider venom is designed for small prey and delivered in small quantities that, while often fatal to tiny creatures, can be handled by bigger organisms. When injected to a horse, for instance, spider venom triggers the animal's immune system to produce antibodies to fight the effect of the toxin.

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