The Redback Spider is another Australian animal that has been named by some highly creative individuals. The thing has a red back. It’s an extremely distinctive marking, an hourglass shape in vivid red on a jet black spider. The spider itself is nothing much to look at. It’s about a centimetre long. It looks like a spider. Eight legs, body in the middle. If it wasn’t for that distinctive marking and the fact that they kill people, they’d be well worth ignoring.
Redback Spiders are a constant menace, and routinely found in homes. They’re responsible for anywhere from two to ten thousand bites every year in Australia, bites which require medical attention and an antivenom that thankfully means no deaths have occurred since its creation in the 50s.
The antivenom is made by injecting horses with venom, a fairly dickish act that I hope the horses understand is for the greater good. Not their good, but maybe mine.
The Redback is very closely related to the US Black Widow Spider, and their bites are approximately the same in effect though the Redback is stronger. Generally a crappy time is had by all. The bite results in nausea, vomiting, sweating, headaches and occasionally coma and death. Depending on the size of the person bitten, death can take anywhere from a few hours to a month. A horrible, horrible month.
Most adults are not too badly affected, and while the symptoms are extremely unpleasant, they’re not likely to be lethal in an adult. Children are more at risk. As a child I took one to my mother on my hand to get its “booboo” fixed, because I thought the red was some sort of injury. Kids are dumb.
Redbacks live everywhere. They’re commonly found in sheds and similar quiet outdoor areas. The old tradition of having outdoor toilets meant they would often be experienced in quite unacceptable circumstances, and the perception of them as a toilet waiting taint biter remains.
They live in inhabited areas, and are potentially deadly. They’re one of the few actual legitimate threats in Australia. The Redback Spider has killed more people than any other spider in Australia. It’s leading on the Sydney Funnel-web by 16-14, the Funnel-web’s horribly potent venom not able to overcome the Redback’s superior geographical range.
And they’re spreading. They’ve been found in New Zealand, where they compete with the related local Katipo, and even the UK, probably brought in on ships. There’s a permanent population in Osaka, Japan now, a country that has never had a venomous spider before.
If you see one, you have several options. One is to walk away, they’re not at all aggressive and usually just hang out in their webs. The other is to squash the bastard. While all animals have a place on this earth, I won’t tell if you don’t.