Science backs viral video of epic battle

February 23, 2017

A still from a video showing a battle between a baby brown snake and a deadly redback spider at Cobram's North Vic Engines.

Seeing a red-back spider take on prey much larger than itself is not an uncommon sight, according to a Melbourne expert on the deadly arachnid.

Museums Victoria’s senior curator of terrestrial invertebrates Richard Marchant said like in the video, it was possible for a red-back to capture larger animals.

‘‘They do have quite a sticky and strong web, so it’s not unusual for a red-back to catch a larger animal,’’ he said.

‘‘Things like small lizards, for example, or larger insects.

‘‘The only thing is that this snake does appear to be on the larger side, but it is a juvenile brown snake so it could be possible,’’ he said.

Since the video went viral last week, a number of people have posted online about witnessing similar incidents where a red-back has taken on larger prey and won.

Mr Marchant said red-backs would typically weave a web and then patiently lie in wait.

‘‘A red-back will spin its web and wait for its prey to get caught and then it will come down the web strand to bite the animal,’’ he said. They then inject their prey with venom, and wait for it to take effect.

Most of the time with smaller prey a red-back will bundle it up in the web, and carry it to a place to store and eat it.

For larger prey, a red-back spider will often wrap it up and leave it to decay somewhere on the ground before returning to it.

Mr Marchant said red-backs were an Australian native and were quite common — especially in rural areas and around outdoor toilets, although not many of those exist any more.

He said a red-back antivenom was introduced in Australia in 1956, and before that, there had been 13 deaths recorded as a result of a red-back spider bite.

‘‘People still get bitten and in a book we’ve got here, it says between 1963 and 1976 there were 2000 cases reported of a red-back bite,’’ he said.

‘‘They do have quite slow-acting venom, especially in humans. I’ve heard of one case in Queensland where a postman got bitten by a red-back and it took about eight days for him to die – this was before the anti-venom was developed.’’

Mr Marchant said unlike other spider and snake bites where medical advice says to tourniquet the wound and restrict blood flow, it was not the best way to deal with a red-back bite, which usually leaves the venom just under the skin.

‘‘If you restrict the blood flow, it can become really painful and the best advice is to leave it and call an ambulance straight away,’’ he said.

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