MYTHBUSTER: Dr Robert Raven with a preserved specimen of a large North Queensland orb spider.
MYTHBUSTER: Dr Robert Raven with a preserved specimen of a large North Queensland orb spider.

'Spider central' the place to dispel popular myths

IT WOULD be hard to find anyone better qualified to dispel some of the myths that have developed about spiders than the senior biodiversity scientist at the Queensland Museum, Robert Raven.

Dr Raven has devoted a lifetime of study both in Australia and in many overseas countries to the arachnid family that includes spiders, centipedes and millipedes.

Speaking at Noosa Landcare's regular monthly environmental forum, Dr Raven dispelled a few myths - for example, daddy long-legs are not native and are basically non venomous, white-tailed spiders do not cause necrotic (dead) tissue damage, and huntsman spiders are not tarantulas or triantilopes - and gave a fascinating insight into the world of spiders by someone who is passionate about the family that many people fear.

 

 

This huntsman has a leg span of 19.5cm.
This huntsman has a leg span of 19.5cm.

"This part of the country is spider central," Dr Raven said. "In 2015, 20 new species were discovered in the region."

He said wherever we were we are never more than a few meters from a spider, and that within 10 meters there are probably 30 or 40 escalating to more than 100 as soon as you move into the forest.

"Spider venom is basically to help catch its prey," Dr Raven said. "Different animals are affected in different ways and to varying degrees."

"The complexity of the venom has led to a lot of pharmaceutical investigation for [possible use in medicines."

Probably the iconic Australian spider is the red-back which is actually a native of the hotter drier country in the south of Western Australia .

"The red-back often preys on things much larger than itself," he said. "It drops onto prey, bites and gets out of the way."

Red-back prey includes mice, lizards and small snakes. Red-back spiders are often found hitching a ride on vehicles, produce containers etc and are very good at establishing themselves at a new site.

Dr Raven said there were probably many more red-back bites than were reported, but if bitten medical advice should be sought. Another well-known spider, the funnel web, is most prevalent when the males are moving around after summer rains.

"This spider can be highly toxic and is most common in rain forest and mountain areas," Dr Raven said.

Australia has about 35 funnel web species, some of which are dangerous. Identification is difficult so all should be treated with caution and not handled.

 

 

Huntsman spiders pounce on their prey and wrap them in silk before sucking them dry.
Huntsman spiders pounce on their prey and wrap them in silk before sucking them dry.

Huntsman spiders, as a group, are the large long legged spiders often seen in sheds and houses. They are 'wait and grab' hunters and can easily capture mice and frogs.

Dr Raven said spiders were good guys in relation to the number of insects and midges they consumed, but the range of prey was as large as the thousands of species.