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SPIDER INFLUX NO BIG DEAL

By Madeleine Gray on March 30, 2017 in News

Photo: Peter Everitt

Photo: Peter Everitt

In recent weeks, a hysterical, Crucible-esque spider-mania seems to have overtaken the Eastern Suburbs, particularly Bondi. Facebook groups have been awash with locals’ complaints about spider invasions and reports of spider bites, and Eastern Suburbs bug control services have confirmed that they’ve experienced a sharp rise in customers wanting spider extermination.

While an influx of spiders is never a pleasant experience, it’s almost never as harrowing as our neuroses imagine. Though some species of spiders are indeed dangerous, most are completely harmless.

To get to the bottom of the spider surge, The Beast had a chat with spider expert Dr. Lizzy Lowe. Dr. Lowe’s doctoral thesis investigated the effect of novel, urban habitats on spider behaviour, so it’s fair to say she knows what she’s talking about.

When we presented Dr. Lowe with photographs of spiders uploaded by Bondi residents to the Facebook group Bondi Local Loop, she identified all of the spiders bar one (a redback) as virtually non-toxic to humans.

“There are only two spiders that are really going to do you any harm: redbacks and funnel webs,” Dr. Lowe said. “All other spiders are next to harmless to humans, and are actually beneficial because they eat all of the flies and cockroaches.

“The ones that people most often see are orb weaving spiders and huntsmen. Neither will do you any harm. Honestly, the best advice I can give you is to leave them be.”

Dr. Lowe went on to say that while redbacks and funnel webs are dangerous, an encounter is easily avoidable.

“Red backs are notorious for building their webs in dark places like sheds and under pot plants, so wear gloves when doing the gardening,” Dr. Lowe advised.

“Funnel webs live underground and are most often seen out looking for somewhere dry after it has rained. This is why people find them in their shoes. So just be careful during these times.”

While the Prince of Wales Hospital told The Beast that it has not experienced a noticeable increase in spider bite patients, it is uncontestable that there are more spiders out and about than usual.

“Spiders hatch out during the spring and summer, so by this time of year they are getting big enough to notice,” Dr. Lowe said.

“They are also out actively looking for mates.

“Further, when we have warm but rainy days lots of the spiders will move inside to avoid the wet.

“The best way to prevent the spiders coming in is by blocking up the spaces under your doors and windows.

“If you really feel like you have to get rid of the spiders, use a company like Systems Pest Management that understands the ecological importance of spider biodiversity.”

If an unknown spider does bite you, take a photo of the perpetrator if possible, and get to your nearest hospital emergency department. That way the doctors will be able to tell straight away which antivenom you need, if any.

And if you’re still concerned about a resident spider, Dr. Lowe has kindly offered to help you out.

“Send me a photo on Twitter – @LizyLowe – and I’ll tell you which species it is and let you know how to deal with it.”

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