The potentially-deadly Redback and seemingly-innocuous Daddy Longlegs have each been the subject of urban myths in recent years – but which spider would win in a battle to the death?
“Daddy Longlegs have got this reputation as a type of spider that is the most poisonous [but] it’s a complete myth,” Dr Harvey said.
“They pose no threat whatsoever to humans.”
Dr Harvey said the now-debunked urban legend that Daddy Longlegs were very poisonous but due to the small size of their mouths could not deliver a deadly bite to humans had started in Australia in the early 1990s and quickly went global.
REDBACK VS DADDY LONGLEGS
While the gangly spider is harmless to humans, the tables turn somewhat if you happen to be a Redback.
“Daddy Longlegs attack their prey with their long legs,” Dr Harvey explained.
He said the spider’s spindly legs kept other spiders at bay, and that swiftly spinning swathes of silk tended to neutralise many adversaries of the Longlegs.
“They’re the Aaron Sandilands of the spider world,” Dr Harvey said of the Longlegs.
“It’s got nothing much to do with venom versus venom.”
He said that if a Redback could not get a bite on its opponent’s narrow legs, which was difficult to do, it would normally be curtains for the black and red arachnid.
Dr Harvey said there were a lot more Daddy Longlegs in Perth than there used to be, as a previously-dominant species of the introduced spider (Pholcus phalangioides, pictured) had in the past decade been usurped by a more recently introduced species (Smeringopus natalensis).
Despite the increased numbers, Dr Harvey doubted there would ever be enough Longlegs to control the Redback population.
“There will probably be enough to pick off the odd one, but that’s about it,” he said.
Dr Harvey said Redbacks – which preferred hot weather – tended to be seen out in the open air more in summer because even they had their heat limits.
“They look for the warmest spots possible,” he said.
“If you go out into the bush and find a bit of corrugated iron, nine times out of 10 you’ll find a Redback there.
“[But] there seems to be a certain threshold they find comfortable and then there is a point where the heat becomes potentially lethal.”
He said that on very hot days Redbacks moved out of their webs and into the open to seek whatever ventilation they could find.
A theory about Redbacks that did the rounds about 20 years ago was that they may not actually be native to Australia.
Dr Harvey said this had now been discredited.
He said nobody had ever found an originating population of Redbacks anywhere but Australia – though places as far flung as Japan and Belgium now had populations thanks to Redbacks hitching rides from Australia in ships.
He said the fact Redbacks were not described by early settlers nor Aboriginal people was not that suprising, as the spiders were not as common pre suburbia, and Aboriginal people normally restricted their rock paintings of animals to those of interest as food.
“No Funnel-webs were painted either,” he said.
“And that’s a spider that can kill you much quicker than a Redback.”
Dr Harvey said White-tailed spiders were less likely than a Redback to stray into a Longlegs web.
“They feed on other spiders, mainly, such as the Black house spider, which is not considered dangerous to humans,” he said of the White-tailed spider.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if one would occasionally blunder into a Daddy Longlegs web [but] they’re normally pretty slow-moving and cautious.
“They’re not going around targeting Redbacks or White-tailed spiders but if they run into one the Daddy Longlegs will ‘think’, ‘I’ll have that’.”
White-tailed spiders received a lot of bad press in the 1990s over their bites allegedly causing lesions on the skin of humans.
“We know they can cause a small lesion the size of a 10 or 20 cent piece but then a lot of species can do that,” Dr Harvey said.
“But in terms of them causing huge skin-rotting sores [otherwise known as necrotic lesions], that’s been discredited.
“There was a time in the 1990s when unexplained symptoms got blamed on the White-tailed spider.”
That said, Dr Harvey explained that, along with the Redback, the White-tailed spider was not a species he liked to see in his home.
He said the White-tailed spider’s penchant for getting into bedding and loose-lying clothes could see the creature conflict with humans.
He ranked the White-tailed spider as Number 2, behind the Redback, in terms of the hazard it posed to people in Western Australia.
But even the Redback, he said, had a fairly slow-acting venom that could be treated by an antivenene.
“Here in WA we have a pretty benign spider fauna which tend to eat insects, so they get my vote,” he said.
Photo: Redback by ‘Saperaud’ and Longlegs by Sven Siegmund (Wikimedia Commons)