From identifying animals to learning about the weird and the wonderful objects you find, our team is ready to help!
Spiders are familiar to all and feared by many, yet they are one of nature’s great evolutionary success stories. Queensland is home to a remarkable diversity of fascinating species.
Spiders (order Araneae) are one of nature’s great evolutionary success stories, having evolved for over 300 million years, and occurring in almost all terrestrial ecosystems worldwide. Today, spiders are one of the most biologically diverse lineages of life on Earth, with over 50,000 named species. Silk plays a central role in all aspects of their lives, and indeed spiders have evolved to be able to dance, swim, climb, parachute, burrow and abseil. Some can see with remarkable binocular vision, and many are masters of disguise, masquerading as ants, or camouflaging themselves in a myriad of ways. Of course, spiders are perhaps most famous for the ability of many species to spin intricate silken webs, which they construct with astonishing precision and architectural flair. As the dominant predators of insects worldwide, and they themselves prey for other animals, spiders are of crucial ecological importance in terrestrial food webs.
Unfortunately, spiders are simultaneously among the most feared yet also misunderstood of creatures. In the public domain, much hyperbole exists around almost everything spider-related, most of which is unfounded and steeped in mythology. Indeed, while nearly all spiders produce venom, only a very small handful of species pose any medical threat to humans. All are important predators, mostly of insects, with an amazing diversity of species, body forms, behaviours, life-histories and adaptations. For those who delve into the wonderful world of spiders, they are endlessly fascinating creatures.
Australia is home to two main groups of spiders – the mygalomorph spiders (trapdoors, tarantulas, funnel-webs and their kin) and the araneomorph spiders (all other species, including jumping spiders, orb-weaving spiders, huntsman spiders, crab spiders and wolf spiders, among many others). Both major groups are abundant and highly diverse in Queensland, although mygalomorph spiders are usually difficult to observe due to their generally sedentary, burrowing lifestyles. Araneomorph spiders, in contrast, include the vast majority of species (by number) and the majority of species observed by people on a daily basis.
The Sydney funnel-web spider (Atrax robustus) is probably the most dangerous of Australia’s spiders, at least to humans. However, since the development of an effective anti-venom in 1980, there have been no recorded fatalities from a funnel-web spider bite. It should be noted that while a few other species are also medically significant to varying degrees (e.g., redback spiders), the vast majority of Australia’s spiders pose no threat to humans. Contrary to popular belief, daddy long-legs spiders in the family Pholcidae are harmless, and not dangerously venomous!
No! While all spiders have the ability to produce silk using spinnerets at the back of their abdomens, many species do not build silken capture webs. Some are sit-and-wait predators (such as trapdoor spiders), while others (such as jumping spiders and huntsman spiders) are active cursorial hunters on the ground or on vegetation.
The answer to this question depends on what one is measuring. In terms of sheer leg span, the giant golden orb-weaving spider (Nephila pilipes) or one of many very large huntsman spiders (e.g. Typostola barbata or Holconia immanis, among others) would likely win the prize. However, in terms of body size or weight, one of several very large mygalomorph spiders would qualify, namely certain species of tarantulas (family Theraphosidae), one of the very large trapdoor spiders in the genera Gaius or Xamiatus, or certain individuals of the tree funnel-web spider Hadronyche formidabilis. Interestingly, Australia is also home to some of the world’s smallest spiders – micro orb-weaving spiders in the genus Patu (family Symphytognathidae), which have a body length of less than 1 millimetre!
This is an interesting and important question, and indeed the Queensland Museum has a key role to play in discovering and describing Australia’s rich spider fauna. At present, there are approximately 4,000 named species of spider in Australia (see Australian Faunal Directory), although it is thought that this represents only 20-30% of the actual total of perhaps 20,000 or more species. Many of these undescribed species are what are sometimes referred to as “known unknowns”, in the sense that museum scientists know that they exist (and they are represented by specimens in museum collections), however the careful taxonomic research required to formally give such species a binomial scientific name has not yet been conducted. For more information on the role of taxonomy, the work of taxonomists, and the importance of museum collections, see the Taxonomy Australia website.
1 of 10