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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 16 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.

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      anonymous 2 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!!!

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      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 4 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

      So informative and a great read.

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