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Huntsman Spider Bite – How dangerous are they?

Huntsman Spider Bite

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Huntsmen spiders are one of Australia’s best-known spiders and are particularly terrifying to arachnophobes due to their size, speed, and fondness for human housing. Although their regular diet is bugs and other invertebrates, there’s no shortage of people who’ve experienced a huntsman spider bite.

Huntsmen are an iconic species in Australia, as they’re large, distinctive, and quite common. They’ve loaned their name to everything from automotive parts companies to warrior bands in fantasy literature. They’re also a source of particular terror to tourists, who generally aren’t used to spiders the size of your palm lurking on the roof above your bed.

But ironically, they’re also one of the most harmless spider species and one you might want to consider leaving alive to roam your house.

What are “Huntsmans”?

Huntsman spiders are actually a group of spider species belonging to the family Sparassidae. They’re also known as wood spiders (due to their fondness for environments like tree bark and woodpiles) and giant crab spiders – due to their size and the crab-like way their legs are structured.

Huntsman spiders often alarm people for a range of reasons. They’re large (commonly up to the size of your palm, and sometimes even larger), and common, meaning most Australians would have encountered them at some point. They don’t make webs to catch prey, but rather hunt and chase their food – they’re very fast-moving (they can move faster than human walking speed), and notorious for jumping. And despite their speed, they have a distinctively “spider-like” way of moving – which many people find unsettling.

Their grey/brown bodies make them very well camouflaged (particularly on bark or wood, but they’re often hard to see on the carpet as well). The structure of their legs also allows them to fit into surprisingly small spaces, meaning sometimes you’ll see a massive spider emerge from a tiny gap. However, they don’t always hide – when inside a house, they’re well known for finding a high-up section of wall or ceiling and just lurking there in plain sight.

As such, it’s not uncommon for Australians to find themselves trying to sleep with a fist-sized spider lurking on the roof overhead. Or possibly having a large, fast-moving spider suddenly appear near them, moving at breakneck speed.

What does a huntsmen spider look like?

Huntsmen are generally brown or grey in colour and quite hairy. They have a body around 15mm-20mm long (including the abdomen) – about the size of a fingerprint. Their legs are long and thin proportional to the body, and slightly twisted so their knees lean backwards, and their legs can be extended forward to grab prey (looking a little like a crab). They’re often around the size of a human palm with legs spread out (around 5cm-8cm), although it is possible to find Huntsmen up to 15cm across.

The huntsman family actually includes the world’s largest spider by leg span, the giant huntsman spider. That’s a big huntsman spider! Fortunately, we don’t have them in Australia – they live in Laos and are mostly found in caves.

The huntsmen’s colour and non-shiny appearance mean they’re naturally quite well camouflaged – especially on tree bark or leaf litter.

Wolf spider vs huntsman

Huntsman vs Wolf Spider
Huntsman (top) and
Wolf Spider (bottom)

The huntsman is often confused with the wolf spider, with which it shares many traits. Both spiders are fast-moving, don’t make webs, and have similar size, shape and colouration.

Generally, the huntsman’s body (not including the abdomen) is wider than it is long, and reasonably plain in colour. The knees are tilted slightly backwards – allowing the spider to extend its legs out in front of it more easily.

Conversely, the wolf spider has a longer body with more decoration – a “cat’s eye” pattern on its back, or stripes radiating out from the middle of the back (or both). Its legs are also jointed vertically, so it’s not so crab-like in appearance. You could say the wolf spider is a huntsman with a better graphic designer.

Is the huntsman spider Australia specific?

No. Huntsmen are certainly very common in Australia, but members of the Sparassidae family are found almost everywhere in the world – except some colder northern climates, like northern Russia and Canada.

Can a huntsman spider bite?

Huntsmen can and will bite, if provoked. They don’t generally look for trouble with humans (they prefer to hide), but when threatened or when protecting their young, they can go on the offensive.

Generally, a huntsman who’s feeling threatened or cornered will make a threat display – rearing up and waving their front legs in the air. This is spider-language for “Come at me, bro!”, and means the huntsman is ready for a fight. If you see a huntsman doing this, you probably want to back off and give him some space – because his next move might well be to charge towards you and bite. Huntsmen move a lot quicker than you might expect. And remember, they can jump!

If threatened while it’s clinging to a wall or on the roof, you might see it suddenly draw its legs in towards its body. This is also a good time to back off, as this can signal that it’s about to jump.

Huntsmen are also very protective of their young and will often become aggressive if protecting an egg-sack or recently-hatched young. If you see what you think might be a pregnant huntsman spider (which have greatly enlarged abdomens and may have already created an egg sack nearby), you might want to keep your distance. Of course, that might also be when you decide you want the spider evicted – given Huntsmen females can lay up to 200 young in a single egg sack.

How dangerous is a huntsman spider bite?

As alarming as a huntsman might be if you get too near them, they’re also one of the more harmless spider species you’ll find in Australia. A huntsman spider bite might be painful (they’re big spiders with big jaws, after all), but generally the only other effects will be short term pain, and possibly some swelling, itchiness, and inflammation. In some cases, the victim might also suffer from nausea or headaches. The most significant symptoms are often caused by the bite itself, rather than the venom.

In a study in 2003 examining 168 huntsman bites, it was found that while the actual bite of a huntsman is more painful than the average spider, the effects of their venom on the victim is generally far less than average. Huntsman venom just isn’t very effective on humans.

In rare cases, huntsman spider bites – or even just huntsmen touching the skin – have been known to cause allergic reactions. This is quite rare, though – the 2003 study didn’t note a single case of anaphylaxis in any of the 168 bite victims. But it’s always worth keeping an eye on any sting or bite victim for signs of an anaphylactic reaction.

Huntsman spider bite mark

So what does a huntsman spider bite look like? Generally, a bite will feature two puncture wounds a few millimetres apart. In some cases, there might be only one visible wound – either because the wounds are too close to be told apart or because only one fang punctured the skin. The space around the bite might be slightly inflamed, and there might be a little bleeding.

Usually, there won’t be any question of what caused the bite. Most of the time, if a Huntsman bites you, you’ll know about it!

huntsman bite first aid

First aid for a huntsmen spider bite is all relatively simple. Once you’ve dealt with the spider (so it doesn’t bite anyone else), wash the bite clean, and then apply an ice-pack or cold-pack to ease swelling and lessen the pain. Keep the patient calm – you can reassure them that huntsmen venom has minimal effect on humans. Avoid placing pressure on the wound, or applying a bandage, as this will only make it hurt more. Conventional painkillers such as paracetamol can also help lessen the discomfort.

If the victim starts to show signs of an allergic reaction, you should monitor them closely. In particular, if they show signs of anaphylaxis (such as tightness or swelling in the throat, difficulty breathing, or a swollen tongue), you should seek medical help immediately. Call 000 if these symptoms are significant.

If the person is known to be at risk of anaphylaxis, they may have an Adrenaline shot with them – in the form of an EpiPen or AnaPen. If so, this might be needed if symptoms become life-threatening.

If you have a first aid officer or someone with first aid training near you, it’s worth notifying them if someone suffers a huntsman spider bite. They’ll have training in recognising the signs of anaphylaxis and how and when to use an EpiPen. And of course, if you live in an area that’s prone to spiders, or you have a family member with a history of anaphylaxis, it may be worth investing a day in professional first aid training, so you’ll know what to do in the worst-case scenario.

How to get rid of a huntsman spider

If you’ve got a huntsman spider in your space, and you want him out, there’s a couple of things you can do.

Bug Spray
Not 100% effective!

People’s first response to a spider is often to spray it with bug spray. Unfortunately, huntsmen are moderately resistant to standard insect spray. You might need a specialised spider spray to do the job. It also might take a while to work, and the spider probably won’t be very happy about it.

People’s second instinct is often to squash it, but this is often easier said than done. A huntsman spider is fast and very good at hiding, meaning catching him to kill him might not be an easy task. If hurt or cornered, they’re also quite capable of going on the offensive. So one danger of trying to stomp on him is that if you miss, you’ll have a very angry, fast spider right next to your foot. You can have quite the battle on your hands trying to kill a huntsman.

However, you don’t actually need to kill them! Huntsmen are quite beneficial spiders in many ways. Apart from being mainly harmless to humans, they’re very fond of eating other creepy crawlies that we don’t like having around the house – such as cockroaches, mosquitoes and flies. They don’t make webs, and the fact that they’re eating all the bugs makes it less likely for you to have other nastier spiders around – like redbacks.

Many people happily leave huntsmen alone to roam the house – they don’t actually like getting too near humans. Because huntsmen are large and reasonably long-lived (they can live two years or more), some will even go so far as to name them.

If you understand that but still can’t come at the idea of having a big hairy spider in the house, you should at least consider relocating them. This might be easier than trying to kill them. Simply grab a bowl or container (a large Tupperware container might be perfect) and a flat, rigid piece of cardboard or plastic. A flattened cereal box is probably ideal.

When you see the huntsman on a flat surface around the house, just pop the container over them (you’re not attacking them, so if the worst they should do is try to run away). When the container is over them, gently slide the rigid cardboard under the container. At that point, the spider is trapped in the container, meaning you can safely take them outside. Move them near some trees or bushes some distance away from the house. Then just put the container and cardboard down, use a stick to open the lid, and let the spider run for it.

Huntsman are certainly a frightening thing to look at. But the truth is that they’re mostly harmless to humans, helpful to have around, and easy to relocate if needed.

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