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Spiders: Myth or Fact?

By: Madelaine Love, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 09 Jun 2017

Is Daddy-long-legs really the most venomous spiders in the world? Are spiders faster than humans? Do all spiders bite? Let's find out.

Funnelweb Spider, Atrax robustus

Funnelweb Spider, Atrax robustus
Photographer: Sue Lindsay © Australian Museum

Spiders evolved more than 300 million years ago, long before dinosaurs walked on Earth 

TRUE: Those ancient spiders didn't build webs but sought the safety of burrows dug underground. There, they were shaded from the sun and protected from predators.

Spiders have poor eyesight

TRUE: Nearly all have eight simple eyes — consisting of one lens and a retina — arranged in different ways but, for the most part, don't see very well. In most cases, spiders use other senses, like touch and smell, to help capture prey.

Daddy-long-legs is the most venomous spiders in the world

FALSE: There is no evidence to suggest that Daddy-long-legs spiders are dangerously venomous. Daddy-long-legs have venom glands and fangs but their fangs are very small. The jaw bases are fused together, giving the fangs a narrow gape that would make attempts to bite through human skin ineffective.

However, Daddy-long-legs Spiders can kill and eat other spiders, including Red back spiders whose venom can be fatal to humans. Perhaps this is the origin of the rumour that Daddy-long-legs are the most venomous spiders in the world. Behavioural and structural characteristics, such as silk wrapping of prey using their long legs, are very important in the Daddy-long-legs' ability to immobilise and kill Red back spiders. Also, the effect of the Daddy-long-legs' venom on spider or insect prey has little bearing on its effect in humans.

Not all spiders have venom

TRUE: Those in the group Uloboridae (Orb –weavers) don't have venom glands. Uloboridae is a family of non-venomous spiders which subdue their prey without venom. They produce a feathery, fuzzy silk which ensnares their prey. Wrapping the prey in the silk, they cover the prey in regurgitated digestive enzymes and ingest the liquefied body.

Some spiders are faster than humans

TRUE: Two Huntsman spiders from the family Sparassidae, are two of the largest Huntsman spiders and two of the fastest spiders in Australia. The Golden Huntsman spider has been recorded to run 31 times its body length in a second - that's almost six times faster than Usain Bolt!

Spider Webs are flimsy and weak

FALSE: Despite their gossamer appearance, spider silk ranks amongst the toughest and most durable material in the world. Currently being developed are biodegradable fishing lines, medical sutures, and protective armour cloth. It also has the potential of being used as a guide for nerve regrowth in human tissue repair.
 

The smallest spider in the world is as big as a full stop.

TRUE: The smallest species of spider in the world is the patu digua. The male patu digua is only as large as the head of a pin.
  

No one has died of a spider bite in Australia for over 30 years

TRUE: Statistics show that no Australian has been killed by our deadly spiders since anti-venom was introduced in 1982. (In fact the biggest killer animal in Australia is the European Honey Bee.)