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What Is a Redback Spider?

Alex Tree
Updated May 21, 2024
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Known scientifically as Latrodectus hasselti, the redback spider is from the widow family and is most often found in Australia. It is a deep brown or black with a bright red marking on its back. Unlike some other spiders, the redback spider builds a very tangled web with no discernible pattern. Male widow spiders usually are eaten during the mating process or — if they survive — die soon afterward. People who have been bitten by redback spiders rarely show symptoms, and the spiders are not naturally aggressive toward humans, so the number of recorded deaths are few.

Young female redback spiders are a deep brown color rather than black. They also have white spots in addition to a red stripe. When they grow older, their color deepens, and the spots disappear. Males resemble juvenile female spiders, and they always stay small.

A redback spider web is not an intricate display like some other webs. In fact, these spider webs resemble fake webbing that can be bought in costume stores. On the other hand, the webs usually are quite strong. They typically are located near the ground and can be found in many places that are dry. The actual spider usually can be found hiding in a corner of the web with her eggs.

Like other spiders from the widow family, female redback spiders kill their mates by eating them. They usually begin eating the smaller male spiders during the process of mating. Sometimes the mating continues even after the male redback spider has been mostly eaten. After a successful mating, the female spider can make eggs for as long as two years, enclosed in about four sacs. It takes about two weeks for the baby spiders to hatch, then they travel to a new location when the wind picks up and blows them away.

Redback spiders are not considered to be aggressive, but they can bite if threatened. Most cases of redback spider bites occur when a person accidentally disturbs a web. Spiders can be protective over their webs, especially when guarding egg sacs. This kind of spider is mostly dangerous to children, elderly people and people who are ill. Only a few dozen fatalities are known to have occurred because of redback spider bites.

Although they are potentially dangerous, redback spiders are of little threat to the vast majority of humans. Still, some caution should be exercised when one is outdoors in Australia. Attempting to kill the spiders with chemicals usually is pointless. Some of the spiders die, but they are quickly replaced by more. In addition, the chemicals kill redback spiders' natural predators, which results in even more redback spiders.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Redback Spider?

The Redback Spider, Latrodectus hasselti, is a venomous species native to Australia. Recognizable by its black body and distinctive red stripe on the upper side of its abdomen, it's a member of the widow spider family. These spiders are notorious for their neurotoxic venom, which can cause significant discomfort and medical issues in humans.

Where can you find Redback Spiders?

Redback Spiders are predominantly found in Australia, but they have also been spotted in Southeast Asia, New Zealand, and even Japan due to human activity spreading them. They prefer warm, sheltered environments such as garden sheds, mailboxes, and under toilet seats in outdoor lavatories.

How dangerous is the Redback Spider's venom?

The venom of a Redback Spider is highly toxic and can cause serious illness, characterized by severe pain, sweating, muscle weakness, and nausea. However, fatalities are rare, especially since the introduction of antivenom in 1956. According to the Australian Museum, no deaths have been recorded since the antivenom became available.

What should you do if bitten by a Redback Spider?

If bitten by a Redback Spider, do not apply a pressure immobilization bandage, as this can increase pain. Instead, apply an ice pack to relieve pain and seek medical attention promptly to assess the need for antivenom. It's crucial to remain calm and limit movement to prevent the venom from spreading.

How can you identify a Redback Spider?

Identifying a Redback Spider involves looking for its signature markings. Females have a glossy black body with a prominent red or orange stripe on the upper side of their abdomen and an hourglass-shaped mark underneath. Males are smaller, lighter in color, and often have additional white markings on their upper side.

What is the ecological role of Redback Spiders?

Redback Spiders play a significant role in controlling insect populations, as they primarily feed on small insects. By managing these populations, they help maintain ecological balance. Their presence also serves as a food source for other predators, integrating them into the food web.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Alex Tree
By Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and AllThingsNature contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.

Discussion Comments

By Rundocuri — On Jul 04, 2014

@ocelot60- I have a friend who lives in Australia, and I saw a redback spider and its web when I visited last year. The tangled web isn't like any other spider web I've seen before. As for the spider itself, I thought it had a very intimidating appearance just like the black window spider does.

By Ocelot60 — On Jul 03, 2014

This sounds like an interesting spider with a unique web. Has anyone actually seen one of these creatures or its web in person?

Alex Tree

Alex Tree

Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and AllThingsNature contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
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