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White Tail Spider - Dangerous or Overrated?

Updated on January 22, 2017
RhondaAlbom profile image

Rhonda is an award-winning travel writer/photographer at AlbomAdventures. Based in New Zealand she has visited 54 countries on 6 continents.

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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?

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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.

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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

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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 Health - MGO 400+ Manuka Honey, 100% Pure New Zealand Honey, 8.8 oz (250 g)
Manuka Health - MGO 400+ Manuka Honey, 100% Pure New Zealand Honey, 8.8 oz (250 g)

The new ratings of MGO 400+ is equivalent to the old UMF rating of 20+ making this a great healing choice.

 

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 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.

© 2009 Rhonda Albom

What Would You Do if You Saw a White Tail Spider?

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    • profile image

      Kayla 21 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 3 years ago

      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.

    • RhondaAlbom profile image
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      Rhonda Albom 3 years ago from New Zealand

      @sunriseblue lm: I hate finding them in the house. My daughter actually got bit out in the bush, not in the house.

    • sunriseblue lm profile image

      sunriseblue lm 3 years ago

      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 profile image

      bornot2b1 4 years ago

      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 profile image

      carocwn 4 years ago

      I hate white tails, having come across a few:) Great lens.

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 4 years ago

      I hate spiders of all kinds! Creepy!!!

    • profile image

      pinkhoodie 4 years ago

      I don't like white tail spiders.

    • RhondaAlbom profile image
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      Rhonda Albom 4 years ago from New Zealand

      @Elle-Dee-Esse: Lucky for us, it is distinctive and the only real thing to worry about.

    • Elle-Dee-Esse profile image

      Lynne Schroeder 4 years ago from Blue Mountains Australia

      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 profile image

      spider11235813 4 years ago

      I like the spider. Not the kill part.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 4 years ago from New Zealand

      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 profile image

      danniblaze 5 years ago

      Cool lens this sounds like a mean spider

    • russiangifts profile image

      russiangifts 5 years ago from USA

      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 Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 5 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      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 profile image

      HalloweenRecipes 5 years ago

      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 profile image

      infiniti99 lm 5 years ago

      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 profile image

      ForestBear LM 5 years ago

      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 profile image

      Ben Reed 5 years ago from Redcar

      So informative and a great read.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 5 years ago from United States

      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 :)

    • profile image

      Helene-Malmsio 5 years ago

      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!

    • squidoopets profile image

      Darcie French 5 years ago from Abbotsford, BC

      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 profile image

      JanieceTobey 5 years ago

      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!

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      JoshK47 6 years ago

      Spooky critters... spiders make my skin crawl. Great lens! :)

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      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!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      very well laid out lens. well done. This caught my eye. Really relieved your daughters ok x

    • whiteskyline lm profile image

      whiteskyline lm 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      dahlia369 6 years ago

      Nicely done and great resource. Blessed! :)

    • Showpup LM profile image

      Showpup LM 6 years ago

      Wonderfully presented information. I'm a total arachnophobe. You had me hanging on every word. Couldn't bring myself to watch the video, though. ;-)

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 6 years ago from Australia

      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 profile image

      EcoGecko LM 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      Tiggered 6 years ago

      Fantastic video! And a nice lens

    • JeremiahStanghini profile image

      JeremiahStanghini 6 years ago

      Looks pretty scary to me...

      With Love and Gratitude,

      Jeremiah

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Thank you for the cool lens on spiders. I still dislike them immensely.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      snazzy lm 6 years ago

      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.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 6 years ago from California

      Very interesting article on white tail spiders. I had never heard of them nor the honey first aid. Blessed by an Angel.

    • Wendy L Henderson profile image

      Wendy Henderson 7 years ago from PA

      Now I'm itching all over. I guess that means I don't like spiders very much.

    • RhondaAlbom profile image
      Author

      Rhonda Albom 7 years ago from New Zealand

      @anonymous: Thanks! He wasn't in my New Zealand bug book. Glad to know he was harmless

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      VillageHut 7 years ago

      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 profile image

      oztoo lm 7 years ago

      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*****

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      @ElizabethJeanAl: i am scard of spiders can you show me a picher of a tranchla

    • profile image

      thewishpearl 8 years ago

      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 profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 8 years ago

      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.

      Lizzy

    • RhondaAlbom profile image
      Author

      Rhonda Albom 8 years ago from New Zealand

      [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?.

    • CherylK profile image

      Cheryl Kohan 8 years ago from Minnesota

      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 profile image

      justholidays 8 years ago

      Eeeeeeek! You just broke the legend that says there are no spiders in NZ! Great lens anyway.

      Dom.

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 8 years ago from Australia

      Great lens! Yes we do see them here in Sydney, Australia and they always get squished ... just in case.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 8 years ago

      Nicely done lens 5* and fav

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 8 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      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! :)

    • MsSnow4 profile image

      Carol Goss 8 years ago

      Great spider lens, I love spiders :)

    • profile image

      Beas 8 years ago

      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.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I had never heard of the White Tail Spider and hope I never see one. Lensrolling to my Writing Spider lens.

    • missbat profile image

      missbat 8 years ago

      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!

    • RhondaAlbom profile image
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      Rhonda Albom 8 years ago from New Zealand

      [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 profile image

      puzzlerpaige 8 years ago

      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 profile image

      Michey LM 8 years ago

      Wow! this is informative, spiders can be dangerous, I hate them. The more we know, the better

      Thanks

      michey

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 8 years ago

      Oh gosh! Spiders give me the creeps! Shudder...