Debunking an urban myth: The bite of the White-tailed Spider (Lampona spp.) does not seem to cause skin ulcerations!
The first case of necrotising arachnidism in Australia was believed to have occurred in 1982 (Sutherland 1982). Following this report, the White-tailed Spider as the culprit of severe skin ulcers and necrotic lesions has been perpetuated by a number of articles in medical journals (e.g. Spring 1987, Sutherland 1987, Pincus et al. 1999), general press (e.g. Young 1992) and in TV shows. In almost all cases, there was no direct evidence that a White-tailed Spider had actually bitten the patient since the spider had not been caught immediately following the bite.
Recent research by Geoff Isbister and Mike Gray (Isbister and Gray 2003) suggests that the White-tailed Spider is not to blame for severe skin ulcerations. Of 130 definite spider bites by Lampona cylindrata (79 bites) and L. murina (51 bites), collected immediately after the bite and identified by a professional arachnologist, none caused necrotic ulcers or other confirmed infections. All patients complained about pain (in some cases severe) and other effects included puncture marks (17%), redness or red marks (83%) and itchiness (44%). The study concludes: “Our study shows that white-tail spider bites are very unlikely to cause necrotic ulcers and other diagnoses must be sought. We hope this will begin to dispel some of the myths surrounding white-tail spiders and their bite.” (Isbister and Gray 2003).
Banks, J., Sirvid, P. and Vink, C.J. 2004. White-tailed Spider bites - arachnophobic fall-out (New Zealand Medical Journal)
Ferrari, J. 1999. Besmirched spider caught in the web of mistrust. The Weekend Australian July/August 1999.
Isbister, G.K. 2002. Squashed spiders, necrotic ulcers and digestive enzymes. Australasian Arachnology 65, 5-6.
Isbister, G.K. and Gray, M.R. 2003. White-tail spider bite: a prospective study of 130 definite bites by Lampona species. Medical Journal of Australia 179, 199-202.
Isbister, G.K. 2004. Necrotic arachnidism: the mythology of a modern plague. Lancet 364, 551-553.
Pincus, S.J., Winkel, K.D. Hawdon, G.M. and Sutherland, S.K. 1999. Acute and recurrent skin ulceration after spider bite. Medical Journal of Australia 171, 99-102.
Spring, M.J. 1987. A probable case of necrotizing arachnidism. Medical Journal of Australia 147, 605-607.
Sutherland, S. 1987. Watch out, Miss Muffet! Medical Journal of Australia 147, 531.
Vetter, R.S. 2004. Myths about spider envenomations and necrotic skin lesions. Lancet 364, 84-85.
White, J., Hirst, D. and Hender, E. 1989. 36 cases of bites by spiders, including the White-tailed Spider, Lampona cylindrata. Medical Journal of Australia 150, 401-403.
Young, P. 1992. Spider bite agony. Woman's Day March 11, 1992: 42-43.
- Australian Museum - White-tailed Spiders
- MyDr.com.au -White-tail spider bite not so black
- ABC Health Report
- ABC South West Victoria - White-tail spiders: monstrous myth begun in Ballarat
- N.I. Platnick (AMNH) - Taxonomy of Lamponidae
- Spider Myths Site - Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture