Monday, November 14, 2011

Animal of the Week: Redback Spider

The Redback spider is part of the widow family of spiders gaining their name from the female who is especially recognisable by a red stripe on her abdomen. Although widows are found around the world, Redback’s are endemic to Australia, found throughout the country. Small populations have been found in the U.K, U.A.E, Japan and New Zealand due probably being introduced by being transported by transport planes or ships.

They are considered one of the most dangerous spiders in Australia due to their neurotoxic venom. However less than 20 deaths have ever been reported, probably because the antivenom is commercially and readily available. Most bites are from females spiders which are larger than the males. Records show that most bites occur in the warmer months of December to April in the late afternoon or evening. As the female rarely leave their web it bites are usually due to someone getting too close to her web or placing their hand in a dark space such as a dark hole or wall cavity. Symptoms of a bite include pain and swelling at the bite site, chest and/or abdominal pain and excessive sweating. If bitten by a Redback, apply an ice pack to the bitten area to relieve pain. Do not apply a pressure bandage as venom movement is slow and pressure worsens pain. Seek medical attention and if possible collect the spider for positive identification.

The female is larger at 1cm, compared to the 3-4mm males. Males do not create a web but rather hang around the edges of a female’s web which is distinctly messy, often holding small, white egg sacks. He will make overtures to see if she is ready, but he must be careful as sometimes she mistakes him as prey. It has been found that in order to occupy the female's attention during mating, the male spider offers her his abdomen by standing on his head and 'somersaulting' his abdomen towards her mouthparts. The female begins to squirt digestive juices onto the male's abdomen while the first palp is inserted. If he is not too weak, he will manage to withdraw, and then insert the second palp. She will continue to 'digest' his abdomen. Most males do not survive this process.

Redback spiders will prey on king crickets, trapdoor spiders, and small lizards that get caught in their web. Their predators are two other species of spider, Daddy-long-legs Spiders and White-tailed Spiders. Redbacks can survive for up to 100 days without food. The average male lives for six to seven months while a female will live for two to three years.

Spider Medicine
Spiders are the weavers of the web of life. One myth involves deer one day asking spider why all the lines in her web looked like symbols. Spider replied that she was creating the first alphabet for humans so they could record and pass on knowledge. Deer rebutted and said humans already have pictures that they draw of their experiences. “Earth’s children are growing more complex and future generations will need to know more,” explained spider. Thus, spider has the ability to see the future and create your destiny.

Spider teaches us to do the same. Set up your life and weave your web to attract what you need. Spider also heeds a warning. Do not get distracted or caught up in the web, otherwise you may become the victim of another’s plan or simply the tangle of the web of life.

The spider’s body is the shape of the ∞ symbol, being made up of a prosoma (head part) and an abdomen. Thus spider also reminds us life offers us an infinite number of choices. Their eight legs also represent the four winds of change and the four directions in the medicine wheel OR the quarters and cross quarters of a magical circle.

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