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Deadly Spiders? | The New Zealand / Australian White Tail

Updated on August 25, 2009

In New Zealand the words 'White Tail' are enough to send the staunchest man or woman reaching for the bug spray or heading out of the house at high speed. The white tail is actually an Australian spider and awesome predator that has carved out a niche in New Zealand. White tail spiders feed on other common household spiders, and it is entirely possible for a single white tail to massacre every spider in a small room like a woodshed within just a couple of weeks.

What Does A White Tail Look Like?

White tails usually grow between one and two centimeters in length. Juvenile white tails may have additional white patches along the sides of the abdomen in addition to the white patch at the tail, but these fade as the spider matures into adulthood. The body is long and fairly slim, and the legs have black joints with a reddish hue between each joint. This reddish hue is more obvious on some specimens than others.

Do I Have White Tails In My Home?

One of the first signs of white tails is a sudden lack of other spiders (such as Daddy Long Legs spiders and the common grey web spinning spider) about the place. White tails are hunting spiders and they feed on web spinners like the Daddy Long Legs. If your house once had a lot of Daddy Long Legs spiders, and they have suddenly disappeared (without someone having gone on a cleaning spree with a broom or vacuum cleaner,) then you may have white tails about the place.

Should I Be Worried If I See A White Tail?

No. White tails have a much more fearsome reputation than they deserve and in spite of media coverage which has painted them as being capable of felling a small child with a single bite, or causing people to lose their limbs to necrotic tissue, there is essentially no scientific evidence that white tails cause harm to humans.

If you do have white tails, avoid leaving clothing on the floor, as they often seek refuge in clothing after a hard night's hunt.

How Deadly Is the White Tail?

Here's the good news, in spite of a great deal of hysteria surrounding the white tail, most researchers agree that the venom from a white tail spider is most often completely harmless. The New Zealand Medical Journal published a study on the effects of the white tailed spider bite and found that not only did patients not die from these bites, they did not develop any tissue death which is commonly feared and associated with white tails. Interestingly enough, though the ten patients referred to in this study all said that they had been bitten by a white tail spider, none of them had actually seen the spider in the act.


New Zealand Medical Association

Land Care Research New Zealand

So Why Is The White Tail Costing New Zealanders Almost Two Million Dollars Every Year?

ACC paid out 1.7 million dollars for spider related injuries in 2008. Many of these injuries have apparently incorrectly been blamed on white tail spiders. It is possible that bacteria carried on the fangs of white tailed spiders causes infection, but there is a large dearth of actual evidence to back this claim up. It seems that New Zealand doctors are happy simply to put 'white tail bite' on an ACC claim form with little to no proof that a white tail was ever involved.

(ACC, the Accident Compensation Corporation is a government body which pays for the treatment of accidents sustained by New Zealand citizens.)


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    • VacationAustralia profile image

      VacationAustralia 8 years ago from Australia

      We have white tails bby the gross, but I treat them like other spiders, I just leave them to lead a happy life! I was bought up in the bush and can tell you even snake bites usually don't matter as they seldom get a good strike. Been bitten lots of times! :)

    • Hope Alexander profile image

      Hope Alexander 8 years ago

      Yes, I'm not sure if they're often mistaken for common house spiders or if they really are common house spiders, they are well established in the north island, and there are fair numbers of them around the Nelson - Christchurch region as well.

    • profile image

      Cantsay 8 years ago

      These are very often mistaken for common house spiders too - we get heaps of their look-a-likes and not so many white tails. We also get some nice funnel web spiders too, and the odd huntsman. Poor things always get the bash from people - personally I have a spare bedroom in my house which is the safe haven for anything alive in the house that's not human!