White tailed spider
The white tailed spider (Lampona cylindrata) is commonly found in homes throughout Australia. It tends to hide in bedding, or within clothes left on the floor. Since a medical report in 1987, the white tailed spider has been associated with necrotising arachnidism, a type of skin inflammation and ulceration that is occasionally triggered by the bite of certain spiders, for reasons unknown.
In most cases, the bite from a white tailed spider only causes a mild reaction, including itching and skin discolouration, which usually resolves after a few weeks. There are no specific first aid treatments for a white tailed spider bite, except the use of icepacks to help relieve the swelling. However, always see your doctor if any spider bite does not clear up.
Seek advice from your local council or professional pest controllers on how to eliminate the white tailed spider from your home.
Physical characteristics of the white tailed spider
The characteristics of the white tailed spider include:
Common hiding spots
- Cylindrical body
- From 1 to 2cm in length
- Dirty grey to brown colour
- Glossy legs
- Characteristic light coloured grey or white spot at the ‘tail’
- Two similar spots near the front of the body may also be present.
The white tailed spider is found in homes throughout Australia. It tends to be more active during summer. Favourite hiding spots include:
Symptoms of a white tailed spider bite
- Clothes left on the floor
- Nook and crannies
- Beneath mulch, leaves and rocks
- Beneath tree bark.
The symptoms of a white tailed spider bite can include:
First aid for a white tailed spider bite
- Arms and legs are common targets
- Localised irritation, such as a stinging or burning sensation
- A small lump
- Localised itchiness
- Discolouration of the skin
- Ulceration of the bite (in some cases)
- Nausea and vomiting (in some cases).
Always try to keep the spider for identification purposes if you have been bitten. First aid suggestions to treat a white tailed spider bite include:
- Apply an icepack to help relieve swelling
- See your doctor if the skin starts to blister or ulcerate.
Necrotising arachnidism is a type of skin inflammation and ulceration that is caused by the bite of particular spiders. Occasionally, the reaction is so severe that the person loses large amounts of skin and needs extensive skin grafts. The white tailed spider and the black house spider, also found in Australia, may both be linked to necrotising arachnidism. In the vast majority of cases, a bite from a white tailed spider only causes mild symptoms, including skin discolouration.
Conflicting theories on necrotising arachnidism
It is unclear why most people who are bitten have only mild reactions, while a very tiny minority suffers from skin ulceration. Researchers are divided, but current theories on the causes of necrotising arachnidism include:
- Bacteria - a particular strain of bacteria, perhaps Mycobacterium ulcerans, inhabits the spider's body. The bacteria are transferred directly to the skin by the bite of an ‘infected’ spider. The toxins produced by the bacteria kill human cells and trigger the ulceration.
- Pre-existing medical conditions - various immune system disorders or problems with the circulatory system may predispose a person to necrotising arachnidism.
- Individual characteristics of the spider - what the spider most recently ate, the particular composition of its venom, its particular species (there are several different species of white tailed spider that all look very similar), its gender or its geographic location may alter the toxicity of its venom.
- Mistaken identity - some researchers believe that white tailed spider bites aren't capable of causing skin ulceration and suggest that other spiders or other factors are to blame.
Localised skin breakdown, loss and death (necrotic lesions) can be caused by a range of other factors, including:
Treatment for necrotising arachnidism
- Poor blood circulation (one of the most common causes of leg ulcers)
- Unmanaged diabetes
- Some fungal infections
- Some bacterial infections
- Burns, such as chemical burns.
There is no cure for necrotising arachnidism. Treatment options include:
Professional pest control treatment
- Medications - including antibiotics and cortisone medication (corticosteroids).
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy - oxygen delivered at higher than usual intensity and pressure.
- Surgery - the dead skin is removed and a skin graft applied.
A qualified pest controller can determine the type, source and extent of the infestation, then use registered insecticides to control the white tailed spiders.
For further information regarding obtaining the services of a Professional Pest Controller please refer to the brochure Pesticides - how to choose a pest control service
available on the Better Health Channel
Where to get help
Things to remember
- Your doctor
- The Australian Environmental Pest Managers Association
- Tel. (03) 9597 0664 website: www.aepma.com.au
- Professional pest exterminators (check the Yellow Pages)
- Your local council.
- Australian Venom Research Unit Tel. (03) 8344 7753
Bites and stings - first aid
- The white tailed spider is commonly found in homes throughout Australia.
- The bite of a white tailed spider has been associated with necrotising arachnidism, a relatively rare condition characterised by ulceration and skin loss.
- Seek advice from a qualified pest controller if you think that you may have white tailed spider infestation.
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Article publication date: 24/09/2001
Last reviewed: 31/01/2005
This article, like all health articles on the Disability Online, is sourced from Better Health Channel and has passed through a rigorous and exhaustive approval process. It is also regularly updated. For more information see Better Health Channel quality assurance
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