What Spider Can Kill You The Fastest?

Most venomous spider


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Defining the term «most venomous» as the most toxic to humans (as some venomous spider species show varying degrees of toxicity to different animal species envenomed by them), the world’s most venomous spider is the male Sydney funnel-web spider Atrax robustus. Native to Sydney and its environs within the Australian state of New South Wales, where it can be found in moist habitats including under logs or foliage and frequenting gardens too, in this species just 0.2 mg/kg of the male’s venom is a lethal dose for primates (including humans). The female Sydney funnel-web is far less dangerous than the male, being four-to-six times less effective.

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World’s Deadliest Spiders a Toxic Myth?

Toxic spiders have a terrible reputation. Yet even though deadly spider bites are regular fodder for scary stories, spider experts say it’s actually quite rare for anyone to suffer serious injuries from the world’s deadliest spiders.

There are more than 40,000 species of spiders, almost all of them venomous, but only a few are known to produce venom that is toxic to humans.

Thanks to antivenin and good medical care, deaths from spider bites have steeply declined since the 1950s, according to records kept by national poison control centers. Changes in how people live have helped, too. For example, in the United States, the switch to indoor plumbing sharply cut black widow bites. That’s because men using outhouses were often bitten on the penis or scrotum, where the thin skin and abundant blood vessels meant venom quickly entered the body, a doctor reported in 1942 in the Annals of Surgery.

«People think every spider bite is deadly, but the ones you hear about are the tragic ones,» said Richard Vetter, an arachnologist and retired research associate at the University of California, Riverside. «It’s like car accidents. Most car accidents are not remarkable, and most spider bites are not that big of a deal.» [Creepy, Crawly & Incredible: Photos of Spiders]

Vetter devoted several decades of his career to publishing reliable information on spiders for non-experts. He recently addressed the mistaken beliefs surrounding the world’s deadliest spiders in an essay published on The Conversation. Here, Live Science has edited and condensed an interview with Vetter on spider myths and misconceptions.

Funnel web spider (Image credit: Paul Looyen/Shutterstock.com)

Funnel web spiders (Atrax robustus and others)

Australia’s funnel web spiders are probably the most toxic spiders to humans. Their bites can kill adults in 24 hours without treatment and are even more lethal in children. Symptoms typically start in less than 10 minutes. «They’ve got a wallop,» Vetter said.

The intensely painful bites jam the body’s communication network, including signals that control the heart and lungs. However, no one has died from a funnel web spider bite since 1981, when antivenin was developed, an Australian study reported in 2005. The glossy black spiders live within the Sydney urban area and along the southeastern Australia coast.

Brazilian wandering spiders are highly venomous, but most people bitten by these spiders survive with only mild to moderate symptoms of envenomation. (Image credit: Richard Vetter/UC Riverside)

Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria)

Three species of Phoneutria spiders found in Brazil are potentially deadly, but according to Vetter, the spiders are rarely found outside the country, despite stories of the creatures infesting banana shipments. Rather, the hairy, red-faced banana spiders are often victims of mistaken identity, he said. That’s because the harmless Cupiennius species, found in Mexico and Central America, strongly resembles its lethal relative. This nonlethal spider sometimes hitches a ride in bananas bound for export, scaring workers who open the shipments. Vetter has documented several mix-ups by spider experts (who weren’t familiar with either species) in a study published September 2014 in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

The deadly Phoneutrias rarely leave Brazil, Vetter said. The most dangerous and toxic species, P. fera, is only found deep in the rainforest (far from banana plantations). Two other Phoneutria species live in eastern Brazil, and their bites cause mild to no symptoms in 80 percent of adults.

Widow spiders (Latrodectus)

Widow spiders are a global group, with 32 species recognized worldwide. In the United States, people rightly feared black widow bites before antivenin was developed. About 5 percent of bites were fatal, but now, black widow deaths are rare. Between 2000 and 2008, there were more than 23,000 black widow bites reported in 47 states and no deaths, according to statistics kept by the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Brown recluse spider (Image credit: Sari ONeal/Shutterstock.com)

Brown recluse spiders (Loxosceles)

Brown recluse spiders are another globetrotting spider species native to North America. Most commonly found in the Southeast and Midwest, their bites are rarely fatal. And only about 10 percent of recluse bites become skins lesions because the venom destroys the capillaries that supply blood and oxygen to skin cells. Without blood, the skin dies.

Beginning in the 1990s, physicians started blaming brown recluse spiders more often when patients turned up with mysterious festering sores. The misdiagnoses emerged at the same time as community-associated Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a strain of staph bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics. (Cancer and several other diseases can also cause skin problems that resemble spider bites.) Many of these cases were in states where brown recluse spiders are rarely found.

Vetter first showed that medical diagnoses of brown recluse bites greatly outnumbered the actual number of spiders in a 2003 study published in the journal Toxicon. In the decade since, the medical mistakes have dropped, Vetter told Live Science. This shift is partly due to growing awareness of MRSA among physicians, he said.

«I used to get 30 to 50 emails a year about brown recluse bites,» Vetter said. «It’s dropped down to 1 or 2 a year.»

See also:  How To Get A Spider?

However, people can die from encounters with a brown recluse because there is no antivenin available in the United States. In less than 10 percent of cases, the venom triggers a devastating and massive breakdown of red blood cells. This systemic reaction is more common in children, and seems to vary by Loxosceles spider species, a 2011 Lancet study reported.

An antivenin is available in Brazil for a recluse spider species, but its production causes the early death of thousands of horses and spiders. Research groups are trying to develop a synthetic alternative.

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The 10 Most Dangerous Spiders in the World

Learn to identify the most dangerous web crawlers in the outdoors

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You call that a deadly spider? Australia’s funnel web can kill in 15 minutes

Queensland expert says Brazilian wandering spider found in UK family’s shopping pales in significance beside its more lethal Australian counterparts

The funnel web is considered the world’s deadliest spider. Photograph: Alamy

The funnel web is considered the world’s deadliest spider. Photograph: Alamy

An Australian spider expert has ridiculed reports from the UK of a family discovering the “world’s deadliest spider” in their groceries.

The risk posed by the Brazilian wandering spider paled in significance beside its more lethal Australian counterparts, the funnel web and the redback, according to Dr Robert Raven of the Queensland Museum.

UK tabloid the Mail On Sunday reported that a London couple were shocked to find the spider and a cluster of its eggs in a bunch of imported bananas.

But Raven said the newspaper’s account of 14 deaths worldwide caused by the spider had probably confused it with a number of reported fatalities for either the redback and the funnel web.

Research had linked the Brazilian spider to 10 deaths at the most, which were “highly likely” to be the result of anaphylaxis, or toxic shock, that could as readily have been caused by an ant bite, he said.

The 14 reported deaths each for the funnel web, which can kill in 15 minutes, and the redback, whose venom is even deadlier, exclude anaphylaxis, he said.

The funnel web “classically speaking” is considered the world’s deadliest spider because it “kills so quickly”.

“In terms of speed of death, in Australia we say funnel web, 15 minutes, no sweat,” Raven said. “With a funnel web bite to the torso, you’re dead. No other spider can claim that reputation.”

However the redback is considered more dangerous because its venom is more powerful and its bites more common, numbering at one point some 10,000 a year.

While it also delivers a “minute” amount of venom, its potency frequently causes anaphylaxis, once killing a woman bitten on the neck in five minutes.

By contrast, with the venom of the Brazilian spider, it is “very slow progress”, Raven said.

It was true that the Brazilian spider, known to scientists as phoneutria, was said to have the “most neurologically active venom of any spider”, Raven said.

But only between 0.5% and 1% of the tens of thousands of recorded bites in Brazil have turned serious, which was “incredibly low”.

“We don’t even think about redbacks in that category, we’re more like at about 20-50% turning serious, while funnel webs are 60% to 70% at least,” Raven said.

The Queensland Museum’s head curator of arachnids said the chances of being bitten by Australia’s deadliest pair of spiders were far greater.

“The number of people that get bitten [by phoneutria] is comparatively low considering the number of people in Brazil, whereas the number of people that get bitten in Australia is quite high and it gets reported and the reactions are quite bad from all of them,” he said.

He said the best information on phoneutria bites, a 2008 research paper, did not explore the determined causes of death in each of the 10 cases in Brazil.

“The thing is with the deaths that occurred, it sounds like the bad reactions have occurred from the neck upwards,” he said.

“I’m wondering if those 10 cases, given the tens of thousands of bites recorded in Brazil, it’s highly likely those 10 deaths were actually bites to the neck on which anaphylaxis had occurred.

“It could have been an ant.”

Progress with antivenoms meant there had been no deaths in Australia in recent years from funnel web bites. The only the one from a redback had been caused by rapid anaphylaxis.

Raven said the “strange indoctrination” of fear towards Australia’s spiders in foreign visitors obscured the fact the vast majority of local arachnids were benign.


Spider Bites: How Dangerous Are They?

Are All Spiders Harmful to Humans?

When you think of spiders, what words come to mind? Creepy? Venomous? Deadly? Spiders are hunters, and they often use their fangs to take down their prey. But no spider in the world is large enough to hunt humans for food. In practically every case, a spider would prefer avoiding you over biting you.

They may look scary, but spiders actually help people. They kill a lot of tiny pests that infest homes. Fleas and mosquitos are more harmful to humans, and they’re some spiders’ favorite foods. So when you think of spiders, perhaps the words that should come to mind are «mostly harmless,» and «surprisingly helpful.»

There are roughly 40,000 different spider species around the world. Only about a dozen can harm humans, though. Even the spiders that are potentially harmful are unlikely to bite unless they think their lives are in danger. But if you do get bitten by a venomous spider, you will want to prepare yourself.

What Do Spider Bites Look Like?

How can you identify spider bites? For the most part, you can’t. Common spider bites look like any other insect bite. You may notice a small, itchy spot on your skin. It could be red. It might irritate your skin, but it will clear up in a matter of days. Sometimes these bites hurt, but no more than bee stings. If they do hurt, the pain usually clears up in an hour or so.

In North America, though, there are two other spiders whose venomous bites can be much more serious—even deadly in some rare cases. These are the black widow spider and the brown recluse spider. You’ll learn more about these two spiders later, and what to do if one bites you.

How Deadly Are Black Widow Spiders?

Do the words «black widow» send chills down your spine? The black widow spider lives up to its reputation as one of the most dangerous spiders to humans. It is also the most venomous spider in North America. A bite can be painful and debilitating, and often causes pain in your chest or abdomen. Other possible symptoms of black widow envenomation include:

  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Painful, cramping muscles
  • Numbness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Heavy sweating and salivating

If you have many of these symptoms, you are suffering from what scientists call latrodectism, the illness caused by black widows and related spiders.

What Do Black Widows Look Like?

Mature black widow females have shiny, black bodies. Their telltale features are bright red hourglass marks on their abdomens (not on their backs as some believe). You can often spot this mark at night, as the female typically hangs upside down from her web after dark. Black widows look very different if they are male or immature, with white and brown bodies. But these varieties pose no threat to humans.

See also:  What Spiders Eat Brown Recluse?

How Aggressive Are Black Widows?

Black widows prefer not to bite if they don’t have to. Scientists poked and prodded these spiders to see what their defensive reactions would be. They found that black widows try to avoid confrontation when they are merely poked once. If they are poked several times these creepy crawlies may bite, but they can choose how much venom they use and prefer to spare it when they can. More than half the time a black widow bite is «dry,» meaning no venom is used. The most likely way to experience a serious dose of venom is by squeezing the spider. This provoked the most violent reactions in the study.

So how deadly are black widows? Not as deadly as we tend to believe. According to the National Poison Data Center, about 1,800 Americans were bitten by them in 2013. More than 1,000 of these never sought medical treatment. Of the 800 who did, only 14 cases were considered major, and nobody died from their bite.

Do You Have a Black Widow Bite?

When you’re first bitten by a black widow, it may or may not be painful. But if venom was injected into your skin you will know within an hour. By then the pain will increase and often spreads to your chest or abdomen. Some people experience stiffness in the belly along with stomach cramps. Profuse sweating, drooling, and dizziness can occur as well.

The first thing to do if you suspect a bite is to wash the bite area with warm, soapy water. This helps prevent infection. Remember that quick medical attention can prevent many of the symptoms these bites can bring on, and quick care is especially important for the most vulnerable people such as young children and the elderly.

How Dangerous Is the Brown Recluse?

The only other spider in North America that poses a medical danger to humans is the brown recluse. If you live in the American Midwest, chances are you live side-by-side with many of these tiny spiders. Even so, your chances of being bitten are slim. That’s because they rarely bite humans.

«I’ve had 100 recluse spiders running up my arm, and I’ve never been bitten by one,» recluse expert Rick Vetter said in one interview. He spent 20 years studying this spider, and says fears of brown recluse spiders are overblown.

Although the risk of being bitten is low, these are potentially dangerous spiders. However, no deaths have been reported in the United States. Even if you aren’t killed by the spider, their bites can be extremely painful and scarring.

Is it a Brown Recluse?

Identifying brown recluse spiders is difficult for the average person. They are sometimes called «violin spiders» due to a brown violin-shaped marking on their cephalothorax (the body segment where their legs attach). But other spiders have unusual markings too, and this can be hard to distinguish.

A better bet may be to look at the eyes of the spider. The brown recluse only has six eyes, whereas other spiders have eight. Recluses also have abdomens that are all one color (though their hearts can be seen through the skin). The length of the body is a little under half an inch.

Identifying Brown Recluse Spider Bites

Far more brown recluse bites are reported than proven, and plenty of confusion remains about what these spider bites actually look and feel like. Genuine brown recluse bites leave the area around the bite deep blue or purple. Sometimes a bull’s eye pattern develops around the bite with both a white inner ring and a large, red outer ring. A blister or ulcer may develop, which can turn black.

Besides the unusual bite mark, you may develop body aches or headaches. Some people notice a rash, fever, nausea or vomiting. When the bite heals, it often leaves a small scar.

Flesh-Eating Bites?

While many believe a brown recluse bite is likely to eat their flesh away, that’s probably not going to be the case. Although the venom these spiders produce can be necrotic for the skin at the bite site (flesh-eating), that only seems to occur about 10% of the time. In 90% of cases, skin reactions are more mild. Also, there can be many other causes of necrotic wounds. Unless you live in a region where brown recluse spiders are known to exist, the cause of your necrotic wound is almost certainly something else.

Hairy, Scary Tarantulas

Tarantulas are big, hairy spiders that cause more frights than problems for people. Their bites can be painful, but they won’t pose any medical emergencies.

In the United States, you’re most likely to find tarantulas in the desert Southwest. These spiders live a surprisingly long time. Some females live as long as 30 years in the wild (females live significantly longer lives than males).

When they aren’t biting their opponents, some tarantulas have another trick up their hairy sleeves. They can fling tiny barbed hairs at their target that are harmful enough to irritate humans and kill some small mammals. But with venom milder than the average bee, these formidable hunters are unlikely to send you to the hospital.

Are You Sure It’s Venomous? False Black Widows

If you live along the coast, you may spot a spider that looks strikingly similar to a black widow. The false black widow is about the same size as a true black widow, but it doesn’t have the red hourglass pattern on its belly. It’s also more oval-shaped than the real deal, and many have faint, light colorings on their black bodies that can be difficult to see.

Their bites can be painful and produce symptoms similar to black widows, though much milder in nature. A bitten victim may see the bite begin to blister. It may be moderately or even severely painful for the first hour, and some people experience a sickness-like malaise, nausea, exhaustion, or headache for a few days. Although unpleasant, these spiders are not aggressive and bites are rare.

Hobo Spiders: Stuck With a Bum Rap

Hobo spiders were once considered highly dangerous—even as dangerous as a brown recluse. But recent research has begun to cast doubt on this. People used to think bites from hobo spiders could decay the surrounding tissue, but this seems to be highly unlikely.

The hobo spider is a transplant from Europe that probably migrated to the Seattle area in the 1920s. In Europe, the spider’s bite has long been considered harmless to humans. The venom from European and North American hobo spiders has been compared, and no significant differences between the two creatures could be found.

If you do encounter a hobo spider in the U.S., most likely you’re in the Pacific Northwest. These spiders are very fast; they can travel up to three feet per second. They weave funnel-shaped webs, and this along with their appearance mean that hobo spiders are commonly confused with the harmless North American funnel web spider.

The Most Aggressive: Yellow Sac Spider

While black widows and brown recluses seem to get all the bad press, you’re far more likely to be bitten by a much tinier but more aggressive spider in your home. The yellow sac spider is the most likely offender when no culprit can be found. In fact, this spider is thought to be responsible for the majority of North American spider bites.

These spiders are quite small—typically ¼- to 3/8-inch long—and they lack any conspicuous markings. They also like to take up residence in our homes. Yellow sac spiders move fast. They can scurry as fast as three feet per second. They have to be fast because these arachnids hunt down their prey for food.

The most unpleasant characteristic of yellow sac spiders, from our perspective, is that they have no problem whatsoever with biting humans. They’ve been observed biting humans without any provocation. Their bites start out painful, prompting a burning feeling that can last up to an hour. For the next hour up to another 10 hours, they leave a blister and rash. Fortunately, the jaws are too small to bite through the skin in some cases, and when they do bite, the yellow sac spider may not leave much venom. Regardless, the bite is rarely considered serious enough to require medical attention.

See also:  What Eats False Widow Spiders?

Treating a Spider Bite at Home

The first thing you should do if bitten is to try to identify the spider. Capture the spider if possible. This will help doctors determine your treatment if you need to be admitted to the hospital.

Anytime you are bitten by a spider, you should follow these steps:

  • Wash the bite area well with soap and water to prevent infection.
  • Apply a cold compress to the bite area to prevent swelling.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB).

When to Visit Your Doctor

Most people will never have to visit a doctor for a spider bite. Emergency room visits for spider bites are rare, even for those caused by the most venomous species. But there are times when a doctor’s care is necessary. See the doctor if you experience:

  • Cramping in your chest or stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Serious, intense pain in your stomach
  • Open sore
  • Bullseye mark around the bite
  • A bite that worsens after 24 hours.

Try to bring the spider with you to aid the doctors in selecting the proper treatment.

Black Widow Antivenom

If you think you’ve been bitten by a spider, you probably weren’t. Other tiny insects like fleas and mosquitos are far more likely to have caused a bite. And if you think you’ve been bitten by a black widow, chances are you will not require medical treatment—more than half of all black widow victims never visit the hospital. You may opt for prescription drugs to ease pain and relax your muscles.

That’s especially remarkable because a black widow’s venom is one of the most powerful poisons by volume in the animal kingdom. The venom contains no fewer than five potent toxins.

However, if the victim is very young or very old, or is weakened by another medical condition, a doctor’s treatment may be necessary. Since 1954, antivenom has been available for black widow bites. Before the invention of this antivenom (also called antivenin), about 5% of all bites resulted in death.

But many doctors are reluctant to use it for two reasons. First, deaths from black widow spiders are extremely rare. Second, the antivenom itself can kill you if you are allergic, though this is extremely rare as well. Despite these drawbacks, when it is administered, the antivenom works almost immediately, relieving pain and reducing symptoms. It is also inexpensive; a dose of black widow spider antivenin costs about $30 wholesale.

Brown Recluse Bite Treatment

Treating a violin spider or brown recluse spider bite is all about managing the wound itself. Unlike black widows which use neurotoxins, recluse spider venom is a cytotoxin, meaning it harms the bite area itself. Although rare, these bites can lead to serious tissue damage that can take more than a month to heal from.

To manage a wound from a brown recluse, talk to your doctor. Open sores may require daily cleaning and antibiotic cream treatment. Bumpy, red skin may benefit from antihistamines. Watch out for further symptoms, such as chills or fever, and report these to the doctor.

Spider Bite Allergies

Most spider bites cause mild reactions. But some people are allergic to spiders. This means that spider bites occasionally cause severe allergic reactions, including the most dangerous reaction—anaphylactic shock. Although spiders seldom cause this reaction, it has been reported in rare cases, and anaphylactic shock can come on very quickly and can be fatal.

Possible symptoms of anaphylactic shock:

  • Difficulty talking, swallowing, or breathing
  • Mouth, throat, or tongue swelling
  • Itching on the face, throat, or roof of mouth
  • Stomach cramps
  • Developing a rash or redness or feeling hot
  • Weakness or feelings of sickness
  • Collapsing or going unconscious

If you develop these symptoms, seek emergency medical treatment immediately.

How Can You Prevent Spider Bites?

Many people spend their whole lives sharing their living spaces with venomous spiders, and yet they are never bitten. Spiders usually only bite as a last resort. Even so, these bites can be serious, and if you are motivated to reduce your risk even further, there are ways to do so:

  • Keep your bed away from the wall. This leaves spiders with fewer ways to climb up the bed while you sleep. Keep the area under your bed clear so spiders have fewer ways to climb.
  • Be careful when you pull things from storage. Undisturbed areas are inviting hunting grounds for spiders.
  • When you put things in storage, close them in zipped plastic bags, taped cardboard boxes and other secured containers. This can help keep spiders out.
  • Many spiders are attracted to undisturbed wood piles and junk, so keep your yard clear.
  • Spiders often bite when someone puts on a piece of clothing that has been left undisturbed for weeks or months. If you’re putting on a pair of shoes or a jacket that’s been left in storage, shake the clothes out first.
  • Pesticides are largely useless against spider infestations, and may do more harm than good. A better way to control spider populations is through sticky traps.

Reactions Commonly Mistaken for Spider Bites

Our fear of spiders is often greater than our actual risk of spider bites. When the thought of a creepy crawly biting your skin looms so large in your mind, it can often be the first cause you reach for when you notice a skin reaction. In spite of this, hospitalizations from spider bites are rare. Here are some more likely causes for the skin reactions often blamed on spider bites:

  • Infection. Infections from bacteria, viruses, and even fungi can cause severe skin reactions. This class of infections include Staph infections, shingles, and herpes.
  • Drug reactions. Drugs can cause contact dermatitis, a painful skin reaction.
  • Other bugs and arthropods. Ticks, fleas, and mites can cause painful skin reactions, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Lyme disease can cause a bullseye pattern around a bite similar to what is seen following some spider bites.
  • Diseases and disorders. A wide variety of medical disorders may resemble spider bites, including lymphoma, diabetic ulcers, and vasculitis.
  • Topical reactions. Touching certain harmful substances can cause nasty skin problems, including reactions to chemical burns and contact with poison oak and poison ivy.



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  15. Dr P. Marazzi / Science Source
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