There are many stories and myths concerning spiders. Below are
answers to some common queries about: Bites and Venom;
Catching Prey; Flying Spiders; and
The Legend of Arachne.
Further information is available in the book Spiders and
Scorpions Commonly Found in Victoria, and
The only spider found in Victoria that has been proven to be highly venomous is
the Red-back Spider, for which an antivenene is
available at hospitals. All other spiders are considered relatively harmless
but should be treated with respect.
Nearly every spider uses venom to kill its prey and in general this venom will
only cause a mild local irritation or inflammation in humans. However, certain
individuals may show allergic or hypersensitive reactions to the venom or may
develop symptoms of a bacterial infection introduced by decomposing foodstuffs
on the fangs. It should be remembered that fear of a spider bite can often
cause more problems than the bite itself.
The reaction to bites from spiders has been ranked at the following levels:
Highly venomous: Potentially fatal.
General symptoms: Non-lethal but may cause headache, nausea,
vomiting and muscular pain.
Local reaction: Non-lethal, causing only redness, swelling, a
burning sensation or itching at bite.
More information is provided with the details of each spider listed on the
site, and from Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital
spider bites webpage.
There's a story that 'the bite of the Daddy Long-legs Spider is the most deadly
of all'. This myth probably arose from the observation that Daddy Long-legs
Spiders sometimes kill and eat Red-back Spiders. Since the Red-back is itself a
venomous spider, the assumption was made that the Daddy
Long-legs Spider must be MORE venomous.
Another story relates the origin of the common name 'Tarantula', sometimes used
for Huntsman Spiders or large hairy South American mygalomorphs. The true
Tarantula is a European Wolf Spider named after the town of Taranto in southern
Italy-the venom of this spider was considered to be extremely dangerous and
people bitten had to avoid falling into a coma by dancing to a lively tune
known as the tarantella. It is now known that the venom of the Wolf Spider is
not dangerous and the bites causing a reaction were probably inflicted by the
Black Widow Spider.
Although all spiders produce silk, not all spiders use a web to catch their
prey. In fact, less than one third of known spiders use silk to catch their
prey. There are more species of Araneomorphae spiders that actively hunt for
their prey than there are species that spin a web to ensnare their prey.
Spiders can be divided into the following broad categories according to how they
capture their prey.
Vagrant Hunters: actively stalk their prey and do not use a web.
Ambush Hunters: wait for their prey to come to them but do not use a
Thieves: do not use their own web, but live in a web of a larger
spider and feed on prey caught by the larger spider or even the host spider
Anglers: use a web but actively catch their prey; some produce an
attractive scent eg. one attracts male moths by mimicking the sex pheromones
produced by female moths.
Web Builders: use a web and wait for their prey to come to the web.
There are two major types used: 'Sticky 'webs-produced by ecribellate spiders
(sometimes called the 'Master Weavers') and 'Hackle band' webs-they are not
sticky, the prey simply become entangled in the threads.
A few days after a spiderling has hatched, it releases a long thread of silk
into a breeze. Eventually enough silk is produced to lift the spiderling up
into the air. The spiderling can ride the wind thermals and currents like a
sky-driver or balloonist, sometimes being carried high up into the stratosphere
and travelling for thousands of kilometres. To land the spiderling simply
climbs along its parachute and rolls it up. 'Ballooning' is an important factor
in the distribution of many species all over the world, and is not confined to
any particular season
The name science uses for spiders, 'arachnid', is derived from a Greek myth
outlined in the following story.
Long ago in a village on the plain below Mount Olympus lived a beautiful maiden
named Arachne. She devoted her days to weaving and embroidering, and such was
her skill that even the nymphs from the woods crept out and gazed with awe at
the wonderful pictures she wove.
Unfortunately, Arachne was admired but never loved, as she boasted endlessly
about her own skill and deftness. She was so sure of her skills that she
boasted that not even Athene, the goddess of wisdom and patroness of arts could
rival her work.
Athene was so incensed by these taunts that she visited Arachne, disguised as
an old woman, and warned her against incurring the wrath of the gods. Arachne
dismissed the warning and claimed if ever she met Athene she would challenge
her to a contest. Athene threw off her cloak and accepted the challenge.
Athene chose for her tapestry her own contest with Neptune while Arachne chose
the abduction of Europa. As their labours finished, each turned to see the
other's work- while Arachne's tapestry was wonderful, one glance at Athene's
work sufficed to show that Arachne was beaten.
In despair, Arachne tried to hang herself in her own tapestry; however, Athene
was unwilling for her rival to escape so easily and changed her suspended body
into a misshapen and repulsive form and condemned her to continue weaving
throughout the ages.