CPR First Aid

Spider Spotlight: The Red Back Vs. The Funnel Web

There is no shortage of spider species in Australia. With over 2,000 species, the idea is enough to make one’s skin crawl as creepily as these arachnids’ legs do. 

Despite a large number of Australian species though, only a handful are lethal to people. Two of the most dangerous spiders throughout the whole world are the redback spider and the funnel web spider. The two species share a common trait of having deadly bites

Naturally, the question comes to mind: which of the two is more dangerous? 

Time to shine the spotlight on these two species and see which one holds the title of most dangerous. 

The Tale of the Web: Red Back Spiders

Physical Characteristics

Before we discuss which spider of the Australian spiders is the most dangerous, let’s familiarise ourselves first with the contenders starting with the redback species. 

This species is black, with their bodies having a certain shine or sheen. On their backs is a red mark in the shape of an hourglass. This is where they get their name from and allow them to be easily identified. 

Their legs are quite long with their bodies leaning more towards a round shape. In terms of size, females are larger than their male counterparts. The former’s body length can reach up to 10 millimetres, while the latter grows to just about four millimetres. 


Size isn’t the only thing that females have more of. They also live longer. The females can live for two to three years. In that time, they are capable of spawning thousands of children. Male redbacks on the other hand have a lifespan of just above six months. Their lives are likely cut short when their mates kill them after mating. 


The final thing that the female variation has over the males is the venom. Only female bites are deemed lethal and venomous. 

These spiders are found in many parts of the home. As such, they are much closer in proximity to people. This is why the number of reported bites is significantly more than other spiders. 

With that said though, bites from this species are rare. Upon encountering a human, they will most likely try to flee and even play dead by laying on their back and crumpling up their legs. 

However, caution must still be taken with them. One bad bite can result in death for children and adults. 

Effects of the Bite

There are a lot of factors that come into play when they bite a person. The symptoms may be different for each person, as well as the progression of an untreated bite. However, there are several common spider bite symptoms

For starters, intense pain and swelling will become apparent on the area bitten. If left untreated, this pain will creep throughout the whole limb or body part. 

In some cases, people will start to sweat. This sweat may happen on the bitten part of the body only, but also on other body parts unassociated with the bite. 

After about an hour, the person may begin to feel nauseous and start vomiting. Headaches can also accompany these symptoms. 

Cause for Alarm

A bite from a red back may not be an immediate emergency. In many cases, very little to no symptoms will arise. However, it is still prudent to have someone around to accompany and observe you if any symptoms do manifest. If they do, make your way to the hospital so they can administer antivenom and medical care.

It is different for children though, as the bites from these spiders have an increased chance of being fatal. 

One final caveat though is that some people may be allergic to certain bites. The result is an allergic reaction that could lead to anaphylactic shock or anaphylaxis. This could prove fatal and should be treated immediately.

The Tale of the Web: Funnel Web

This species currently holds the distinction of being the world’s deadliest spider. It has also joined the Guinness Book of World Records as being the most venomous in the whole world. 

World’s deadliest spider: Guinness World Record holder for most venomous.

Physical Characteristics

This species got its name from the shape of the web they create. As the name suggests, their webs are shaped like funnels and they lay in wait inside. Once an insect goes to the entrance, the venomous arachnid leaps out and captures its unsuspecting prey.

The colours of their bodies range from black to brown, with their carapace having a glossy shine to it. The bodies are also hard on the couch. Additionally, the carapace is usually covered in tiny hairs. 

Their size can go from just one to five centimetres, with males being lighter than their female counterparts.


As opposed to the red back, the male takes centre stage in terms of lethality. The male Sydney funnel web spider is the only one responsible for all recorded deaths, with the last taking place in 1981. Since the antivenom has been produced, no more deaths have been recorded. 

Despite that, people around the world are still wary of how dangerous this spider can be. 

In terms of habitats, they usually reside in moist forest regions and the highlands. One would usually find them burrowed underneath logs, rugs, and holes, they burrowed into. Caution should be taken around gardens and places with abundant shrubbery.

Effects of the Bite

Starting from the head, a bite from this spider will have people drooling and seeing double. They will also have difficulty swallowing and a tingling sensation around their lips within minutes.

People may also feel muscle and joint pains, with spasms commonly attacking the legs and stomach. Waves of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea will also come, dehydrating the victims.

The nervous system is similarly afflicted with bouts of headache, shivering, and confusion to name a few. 

Finally, the bite from this venomous spider could lead to a rapid heart rate and eventually shock.

For children, death may come as quickly as 15 minutes after the bite. This period changes and can go up to three days for older victims. 

12th Round Decision

After examining all the facts, it is time to decide which spider is more dangerous. Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple and largely depends on how we look at the question. 

In terms of raw power or lethal envenomation, the funnel web spider delivers a knockout blow. No other spider comes close. 

However, one could argue for the side of the redback spider. This is because they live closer to people and bite more people on average. This increased frequency could result in more deaths on average, as more people allergic to the redback’s venom could be affected. 

Taking both sides in, the decision is clearly a draw. 

Get Ready to Rumble

While pitting two dangerous spider species against one another has been entertaining and educational, people – especially those who live in or are visiting Australia – should always stay prepared if they come across any of them. 

Being prepared for any and all spider bites, especially those as dangerous as these two, can spell the difference between life and death. There are also other spiders that give painful bites that also require proper treatment.

One of the best ways to do so is to learn the right first aid practices for spiders.

Learn all that and more life-saving skills by taking CPR First Aid’s Liverpool courses today.

Other Spiders in Australia

While some may consider the following species as not very dangerous, their bites may still be painful. So, it’s helpful to know more about them and learn the proper treatment for the bites.

Species may seem harmless but their bites hurt. Learn more & treat properly.

Orb-Weaving Spiders

Orb weaver spiders are a group of spiders with 100 species under this name (Family: Araneidae, Super Family: Araneoidea, Order: Araneae). St andrew’s cross spider (Argiope), Nephila Plumipes, Garden orb weaving spiders (Eriophora sp./Eriophora transmarina/Araneus), and golden orb weavers are a few examples. The common ones are stout, reddish-brown, or grey. Some also have a leaf-shaped pattern on their triangular abdomens. They are known for making wheel-shaped orb webs and are found throughout Australia such as Queensland, NSW. The Garden Orb Weavers (Eriophora biapicata and E. transmarina) which are popular for their sticky webs and wheel-shaped webs live in Eastern and Southern areas.

Their bites may cause mild local pain, numbness, swelling, nausea, and dizziness. An ice pack, drinking water, or eating ginger may help. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist.

White-Tailed Spider

White-tailed spiders are dark reddish to grey and their legs have dark orange-brown bands. This species lives in southern and eastern Australia.

Initial burning pain, burning pain, swelling, and itchiness are the possible effects of its bites. The application of an ice pack may help and remember to see your doctor if your skin starts to blister or ulcerate.

Huntsman Spider

Australian huntsman spiders with a common name of ‘Tarantula’ are large, long-legged species that are mostly grey to brown. Other species such as Isopeda, Isopedella, and Holconia have flat bodies that allow them to adapt in narrow spaces. It is why many of the females also lay their egg sacs under bark or rock, moisten them, and help their spiderlings emerge. They are widely spread throughout Central Australia and the rest of the country. They eat flying insects and other invertebrates by catching them in their spider webs.

Their bites may cause local pain which a cold pack may relieve.



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