back to article Antidote for poisonous Aussie Red-Back Spider venom DOESN'T WORK

Australia's second-most feared spider, the Red-Back (a member of same family that includes America's Black Widow), is probably less venomous than we think, considering that new research shows the anti-venom Australia has used for decades doesn't do anything. Of course, since nobody's actually died of a Red-Back spider bite in …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > can strike down one of the terrors of Australia's fauna

    Me, I'm an utter coward: in addition to being very afraid of hideous painful deaths I've also got strong aversion to hideous painful would-have-killed-you-but-got-to-hospital-in-times too. And seeing how one of the redback's notorious habitats is lurking under the toilet seat of an outdoor dunny and Wiki says this about bites: "starts with pain around the bite site, which typically becomes severe and progresses up the bitten limb and persists for over 24 hours...Generalised symptoms of nausea, vomiting, headache and agitation may also occur" I'm wondering just how swollen my nads would be to count as a "limb", and feeling a good measure of terror still,

    1. Wzrd1

      Re: > can strike down one of the terrors of Australia's fauna

      "Generalised symptoms of nausea, vomiting, headache and agitation may also occur"

      Sounds like the morning after the night before.

      If it was a rather eventful night before, one would also have pain around an appendage, which may or may not travel up further...

      Or do what I did when in Black Widow country, lift the seat, clean it out with a stick or some other object that is not a part of your body or your apparel, settle down to business.

      One of our men didn't do that, ended up with a scrotum the size of a grapefruit and increasing before the medivac got him to the hospital.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Maybe it has other side effects

      That could account for a lot of Antipodean cousins foibles.

  2. Jerry

    Second most feared??

    Funnel-webs and Hunstmen beat them for sure in the fear stakes. Then throw in trap-door spider and white-tail spider both of which probably beat the redback in scariness.

    The problem is you see redbacks all the time and they are usually pretty small.

    1. poopypants

      Re: Second most feared??

      Huntsmen are not at all scary. If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone.

      From Wikipedia: "They have been known to inflict defensive bites, but are not widely regarded as dangerous to healthy humans. Huntsman spiders are widely considered beneficial because they feed on insect pests such as cockroaches.

      A real spiderbro, in my opinion.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Second most feared??

        "A real spiderbro, in my opinion."

        Spider-Bro, Spider-Bro

        Does whatever a Spider-Bro can...

        Chills your Beer!

        Backs you up!

        Gets you home

        after abusing the hops

        Oh yeah, here comes the Spider-Bro yeah

        Apologies to Paul Francis Webster

    2. cracked
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Second most feared??

      Huntsmen: Yeah, while it's really a pussy cat (well, oversized pony, to be fair) that thing looks scarrier than Steve Ballmer at a well attended Apple sales event. Just watching the thing leaves you short of breath. A proper spider. :-)

      Red Backs ... We have one currently living in the pump shed, I say hello to it most mornings. It doesn't respond ... It just sits lurking ... waiting for the day I don't see it first ...

      (Helicopter: because as well as a guitar, it also looks a bit like a scorpion ... oh yes it does ... And I know, but there isn't an icon with eight legs)

      1. Goat Jam

        Re: Second most feared??

        I had a pet huntsman for about a year, much to the consternation of my girlfriend at the time. Chucking a live blowfly in to his enclosure and watching him suck its innards out like a child sucking a juice box through a straw was awesome.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Second most feared??

          I thought Huntsmans killed more people than any other spider?

          They like to get into cars and hide behind the sun visor.

          So you are driving across Australia at a sedate 30mph (as all Aussie drivers do), flip down the visor - a spider the size of a cat lands in your face and you liable to be momentarily distracted

          1. Wzrd1

            Re: Second most feared??

            "They like to get into cars and hide behind the sun visor."

            Note to self:

            Just in case this is factual, if going down under, check the visor *before* driving off.

            Don't want a horse of a spider to knock my shades off!

          2. hamcheeseandonion

            Re: Second most feared??

            So...let me get this straight....

            "They like to get into cars and hide behind the sun visor."

            In Oz, you have spiders that not only scare the bejesus out of you, but are also amazingly gifted?

            How else to explain their ability to break into cars, and the jump out at the most comically appropriate moment....

            All hail our Not-So-Incy-Wincy Arachnid Overlords

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Second most feared??

              >How else to explain their ability to break into cars, and the jump out at the most comically appropriate moment....

              Due to the average temperature being slightly higher than the surface of the sun, most people park with their windows partly open. The spider thinks - Hello, a nice cool cave with a ledge to hide behind.

          3. NomNomNom

            Re: Second most feared??

            you are thinking of facehuggers

        2. LaeMing Silver badge

          Re: Second most feared??

          I alway know when it is time to spider-bomb mum's back shed for red-backs because of all the sucked-dry skink (small type of lizard) carcases littered around the corners of the space. Hungry little critters, and while a single red-back bite won't necessarily take you out, they often like to live in communes, so getting bitten by just one is less iikely. Just looking where you are sticking your bare body parts before sticking them there is generally a good enough strategy for dealing with most Aussie crawlies, though

          1. Stratman

            Re: Second most feared??

            "Just looking where you are sticking your bare body parts before sticking them there is generally a good enough strategy for dealing with most Aussie crawlies, though"

            Glad to help

          2. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

            Re: Second most feared??

            "I alway know when it is time to spider-bomb mum's back shed"

            In Britain you can tell of impending Tropical Storms by the presence of spiders. How do they know and what the hell use could they possibly make of such knowledge?

    3. Big-nosed Pengie

      Re: Second most feared??

      Funnelwebs, definitely. Huntsmans? Hardly. Not aggressive at all, though they can give you a painful nip if you tease them.

      1. LaeMing Silver badge

        Re: Second most feared??

        Huntsmen definitely do like to hide behind the sun visor. My sister nearly ran my mum off the road when one fell out on her, age about 14 (my sister, not the spider).

        As said above: Huntsmen look bloody terrifying, but are generally harmless from a biting point-of-view.

  3. Sebastian A


    Down to only 9,274 types of critters that'll kill ya. Straya mate! Bewdy!

  4. Thorne

    Come to Australia

    You might accidently get killed.....

    1. MrDamage

      Re: Come to Australia

      Australian wildlife.

      Mother Nature's way of letting you know you're her bitch.

      1. Wize

        Re: Come to Australia

        I never had the urge to go down under, and its not changing any time soon.

  5. Gray Ham

    Red backs are way down the list ...

    Apart from funnel webs (remembering there are several different species of these), there are Mouse spiders, trapdoor spiders and whistling spiders, all of which are far scarier than redbacks. Huntsmen can be big - I've seen one at a friend's house in Captain's Flat that had a leg span the size of a dinner plate - but they are pretty innocuous. White tails are possibly the most common source of bites, given their habit of hiding in beds, but the bite doesn't usually cause more than a bit of local itching or pain.

    As to redbacks being dangerous, the only person I've met who has been bitten didn't bother going to hospital - just used the first aid treatment. So, it possibly doesn't matter much if the antivenene isn't too effective,

    1. LaeMing Silver badge

      Re: Red backs are way down the list ...

      Just remember the first aid for red-back bites is quite different to that for other spider bites - I always have to look that one up in first-aid training!

  6. Winkypop Silver badge

    Consent, ethics?

    "His work was based on analysing 224 patients in hospitals around Australia, half of which received the anti-venom along with pain relief, the other half receiving just the analgesia."

    Hi, I'm the Doctor, we've just experimented on you, how do you feel? Hello...?

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      I don't think it means a double blind test or anything.

      Probably just that some patients were treated with the anti venom and some were not, and he thinks that it didn't make much difference.

      That isn't the highest standard of test because we don't know why some people got the stuff and not others. Maybe some hospitals don't have it. Or maybe they only give it to you if they can't find somebody to suck the poison out of the wound. But if they give it to you when you start turning yellow (I'm totally speculating), and not everyone does that, then maybe it is the difference between turning yellow, or turning yellow and dying. Nobody dies whether they got the stuff or not, since anyone who needed it got it, and this doctor decides it has no effect.

      Awkward if you're Chinese but we won't go into that..

    2. Wzrd1

      Re: Consent, ethics?

      "Hi, I'm the Doctor, we've just experimented on you, how do you feel? Hello...?"

      Yeah, morphine will do that to you. Heroine even more so. Fentanyl, really so.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Heroine's are bad?

        I don't think so.

        1. Mayhem

          Re: Heroine's are bad?

          I know if I woke up and the doctor said I'd become a heroine I'd be pretty distraught!

          (After the mandatory chest examination, of course)

        2. Martin Budden Bronze badge

          Re: Heroine's are bad?

          Hi theodore, the grocer called: he wants his apostrophe back.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    I've been bitten by a red back

    No pain relief or anti-venom was required. It was rather a strange experience - the bite area was painful (but not unbearable so) but more hot and sweated an awful lot, which was unusual as the surrounding skin was dry. Not something I'd care to repeat, but at least I know what the symptoms are if ever the kids get bitten by one, though they tend to keep their distance from most bitey beasties.

  8. Bsquared

    Having grown up in the UK, I felt pretty immune to arachnophobia. Until I moved to Oz and met a Huntsman in the bog.

    <Mick Dundee> "heh heh, that's not a spider. THIS is a spider...."

    The missus called me in to deal with a spider, and I duly trotted in with my little glass and a piece of cardboard. "We're going to need a bigger tumbler....."

    1. Elmer Phud

      That Mr Creosote moment . . .

      " "We're going to need a bigger tumbler.....""

  9. DougS Silver badge

    Placebo effect?

    If I was bitten by a spider reputed to have a deadly bite, I'd be pretty stressed out. Getting a shot of antivenom I believed to work would at least greatly reduce the stress and make recovery more likely even if they had given me a shot of saline.

    1. sandman

      Re: Placebo effect?

      Absolutely true - the effects of stress on both the speed of transmission of venom around the body and of the mental state of the patient have been known for a long time. Even if bitten by a pretty venomous snake you are advised to keep calm (very, very difficult) and relax while help is (hopefully) on the way. You can get pretty near to frightening yourself to death. Oh, and knocking back the booze won't help much either :-(

  10. Triggerfish

    Sort of related

    For those wondering what spider and similar bites might feel like some with rich descriptions.

    I recommend the Arachnoboard bite reports,

    Giant Asian centipedes.archive

    Just about everything else.

    1. Pirate Dave Silver badge

      Re: Sort of related

      why did I follow the centipede link? why?...

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Sort of related

        Wait till one walks across your bare foot when your standing in the bathroom, good job I was going to the toilet cos I widdled myself anyway.

  11. cyclical

    I lived in Aus for ages, and I although I used to squish redbacks when I saw them round the house, I had no fear of them - there are plenty of toxic spiders out there, and I had a few aussie friends get bit and it was no major issue. Things like Golden Orbweavers were more scary to me since they wove webs at face height in the middle of the night even in heavily built up areas and could give you a painful wasplike bite. Nothing like walking home in the middle of the night and suddenly finding you have an irritated, grape-sized toxic insect crawling on your face.

    Huntsmen are fantastic despite their size. We left the one who lived in our roof space alone because their favourite prey was cockroaches, and cockroaches are assholes.

    I think I came face to face with about 10 or so different animals in the wild there who could have done me some very serious harm (wasps nests, giant ants, very dangerous snakes). Little non-aggressive spiders really are the least of issues for people in Aus.

    1. UnauthorisedAccess

      > Golden Orbweavers

      Do you mean Garden Orbweavers?

      Golden Orbweavers are the ones that have really messy all-over-the-shop webs, and have been known to catch and eat small birds. They're visible throughout the day.

      Garden Orbweavers are the ones that build massive (I've seen human sized ones) webs at night. They're little grey/brown furry spiders that rest in the day with one leg hooked on their web like a fisherman. They're cute, but no one likes walking into a human sized spider web at night.

      1. Martin Budden Bronze badge

        No, he means Golden just like he said. Big spiders, much bigger than your Garden ones.

        1. UnauthorisedAccess

          ...but he said "Things like Golden Orbweavers were more scary to me since they wove webs at face height in the middle of the night".

          Golden Orbweavers weave webs during the day, where Garden Orbweavers weave at night (and only night).

          Not that it really matters - I just wanted to check.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    While this (placebo effect) does hold true it's not something that should be toyed with when using antivenom.

    Antivenom can be as harmful to the victim as the bite itself.

    Certainly with venomous snake bites (I have some experience here, more than most) the hospital staff wait until they are damn sure you've not had a "dry bite" (bitten but not envenomated) before administering antivenom. suffice to say if you think you've been bitten by a rattlesnake but actualy have not if they slammed 20 vials of antivemon in you you'd be in very nearly as much trouble as someone who HAD been envenomated by a rattler.

    Going back to spiders many people have issues because of an alergy to the venom rather than the effects the venom in supposed to have. In these instances anti-venom would be counter productive.

    It's also worth noting that some antivenoms are a bit of a myth. again going back to snakes there are many instances of species of snakes not having AV at all and where it does exist there are a scary amount of "catch all" solutions. Certainly just one antivenom covers species as diverse as N.American rattlers, SAmerican pit vipers, indian/asian cobra species and many of Australian venomous snakes. There's just one 'brand' AV for the lot "Polyvalent" and it's a case of works brilliants for X,Y and Z, not so well for A,B or C so cross your fingers folks (if they've not dropped off yet)

    Sorry for rambling, but antivenom is never administered "just in case" as this can have consequences as bad as any bite.

    1. 100113.1537

      A different experience..

      One of my lab technicians was rushed in to the on-site clinic with hyperventilation and a racing pulse and although the doctor could find little in the way of a bite, she was given redback AV as her leg was very swollen and tender (just below where her lab coat came to). The results were pretty impressive - with heart rate and breathing back to normal in about 5 minutes. When her leg went down, the bite mark was visible and she received a second dose later that evening when the symptoms came back.

      Just anecdotal of course, but it does provide a different experience to the the paper quoted here. Perth doctors/nurses are well used to redback bites as it is our 'native' spider (and the name of a very palatable wheat beer) and there are certainly big differences with treatment of different snake and spider bites so I think it is really a case of trusting to local experience and not treating every bite the same.

      1. bep

        Re: A different experience..

        My partner was bitten on the toe by a redback and she was given the anti-venom. The possibly limited effectiveness was well known to the nurses and the doctor and discussed with her (she is a nurse) but they recommended in her case she should have it and she agreed. She had the pain, swelling, localised sweating and reslessness for about 24 hours then the symptoms subsided. Plenty of locals apparently don't bother going to hospital when they get bit, which is maybe not too wise.

  13. NomNomNom

    worse ones in australia is those jumping ones you hear about, the kangerooos

    1. Christoph Silver badge

      Worst by far are the Drop Bears

  14. theblackhand Silver badge


    Maybe the Redbacks are emulating Australian sports people and they're just not as good as they used to be?

    My coats the one with a copy of Wisden's in the pocket....

  15. phil dude

    brown recluse..

    so while we're on the spider stories , the brown recluse has a bite that is not so much poisonous as a biological weapon.

    The spider cultures flesh eating bacteria that when injected into the human, begin necrotising the tissue...

    The thing about flesh eating bacteria,is you are a live to watch them dissolve you....


    1. Old Handle

      Re: brown recluse..

      I don't think that's correct. It's just a particularly nasty (though not especially lethal) type of poison.

  16. Sherrie Ludwig

    Yikes! I mean,Crikey!

    American born and raised. Used to think I would like to visit and possibly live in Austrailia, then I saw Harry Butler's TV show, where he said, "there are (I don't remember the number) species of snakes in Austrailia. A few of them are non-poisonous." Add in Sydney funnel webs and all their cousins, and I think I'll stay up here, where black widows and brown recluses are, well,reclusive.

    1. Stratman

      Re: Yikes! I mean,Crikey!

      A survey to name all the poisonous creatures in Australia resulted in a list so long it was quicker to list the non poisonous ones:-

      "Some of the sheep"

  17. UnauthorisedAccess

    Can't help but to comment...

    Here's my weirdness when it comes to spiders (as an Australian); Huntsmans (or 'Freds' as their called by some Australian families - not sure if this is common) scare me. They're massive, move in darkness and some reason love turning up at eye level when you least expect it. They do this weird act of 'someone is near and the light is on - if I don't move then they won't see me'. If you turn the light off for a minute they'll be on the other side of the room.

    The weird part: All other spiders don't bother me, even the deadly ones. I will try to overcome this as they truly are spiderbros.

    Quick personal stories of huntsmans:

    1. As a teenager, a coworker of mine stacking shelves at Coles had a huntsman jump on his face like a face hugger (leg span covered his face). It didn't bite, it just decided that his face was a good place to jump to.

    2. Wife driving the car, felt something in her hair, pulled it out and it was a huntsman's body. The legs were going nuts. She just threw it on the passenger seat and kept driving. 30 minutes later I get in the car and she says "oh yeah, there's a pissed of huntsman in the car, don't annoy it". Thanks.

    3. If you have one in the bathroom above the shower, please note that they'll loose their grip as the condensation increases. If they're above you, prepare for some help massaging that shampoo in.

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