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Appearance - The female red-back is black with a distinctive red or orange marking on its back, although this may sometimes be absent. These markings may be broken into spots in front and, sometimes, white lines may be visible.
The female can grow up to 15mm long. Males are very small and usually only grow up to 5mm long.
The male has more complex markings than those of the female, incorporating white and sometimes yellow markings.
Female red-backs take about 2-3 months to mature and can lay 3-8 egg sacs between September and May. Each sac can contain up to 300 eggs. However, most of the hatchlings do not survive because they are eaten by their siblings and are very prone to wasp parasitism.
Females may live for two to three years, whereas males only live for about six or seven months.
Commonly found in logs or under rocks in the bush as they tend to reside in dark, dry areas. In suburban regions, the red-back has been known to live under roof eaves, floorboards, shelves, flower pots or in garden sheds.
The web is a triangle of dry silk. The trap lines are sticky to assist with catching their prey.
Redback spiders are carnivorous eating almost any small insects that are caught in their webs. They will also eat skinks and even juvenile mice, snakes and frogs.
Danger to humans and First Aid Procedure
Redback bites occur frequently, particularly over the summer months. More than 250 cases receive antivenom each year, with several milder envenomations probably going unreported. Only the female bite is dangerous. They can cause serious illness and have caused deaths. However, since Redback Spiders rarely leave their webs, humans are not likely to be bitten unless a body part such as a hand is put directly into the web, and because of their small jaws many bites are ineffective. The venom acts directly on the nerves, resulting in release and subsequent depletion of neurotransmitters. Common early symptoms are pain (which can become severe), sweating (always including local sweating at bite site), muscular weakness, nausea and vomiting. Antivenom is available. No deaths have occurred since its introduction. Apply an ice pack to the bitten area to relieve pain. Do not apply a pressure bandage (venom movement is slow and pressure worsens pain). Collect the spider for positive identification. Seek medical attention.