Katipo Spider: How to identify New Zealand’s venomous spider

The Katipo spider is the only native venomous spider in New Zealand. On an island country with no other dangerous, native animals, insects, snakes, or scorpions, any military exercise will undoubtedly have to use the Katipo spider as a logo or a name.

National pride, right?

However, like the Australian redback spider and black widow spider, the Katipo spider has left its home shores (thanks to international shipping) and now arrived in California. 

A few quick notes before you read further:

  • The Katipo spider is endangered.
  • No one has died of its bite in over 100 years.
  • It is still one of the meanest-looking spiders you’ll ever see.
Katipo spider
Lab-reared female Latrodectus katipo. Endangered species, endemic to New Zealand coastal sand dunes. Same genus as black widow and redback spiders. Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Arthropoda Class: Arachnida Order: Araneae Suborder: Araneomorphae Family: Theridiidae… jesscostall – Latrodectus katipo in lab

Author’s note: Good photos of the Katipo spider are hard to find. Let’s make sure the photographer gets all the proper credit.

jesscostall – Latrodectus katipo in lab

  • CC BY 2.0
  • File:Latrodectus katipo.jpg
  • Created: 2006-03-15 08:57

Katipo Spider: Description.

The Katipo spider living on the lower Northern Island and South Island has a body size averaging 1/3 of an inch and a leg span of 1 1/3 inches in width. The female looks like a black pea with a white-bordered red and orange stripe running the entire length down the back of the upper abdomen. The underside of her stomach has the familiar reddish hourglass marking.

The female Katipo spider living in the upper North Island lacks the red and orange stripe on its back, and its hourglass mark is lighter, patchy in the middle, and sometimes nonexistent.

Male and juvenile Katipo spiders look nothing like the females. A female Katipo spider is six times larger! And from here, the differences only increase. Immature Katipo spiders are brown with white abdomens marked by orange-reddish diamonds running down the upper side and back, bordered by black, irregular lines.

Male Katipo spiders stay this color through adulthood.

Katipo spider: Habitat.

The Katipo is a beach dweller. Amongst the dunes along the seashore, it can be found building its webs in the local plants and introduced grasses, under stones, on pieces of driftwood.

Using the protection of the landward side of dunes (where sand movement and winds are less of a problem), Katipo spiders install their webs near the ground to catch insects crawling around next to them.

The Katipo spiders’ habitat, limited and ever-decreasing numbers, mean few hostile encounters with humans and, therefore, fewer bites to be reported. 

What is the fine for killing a Katipo spider?

Killing a Katipo spider can bring a fine of $100,000 or up to one year in prison. 

Katipo spider
Katipo spider on New Zealand Stamp. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com/Igor Golovniov

If a country uses a spider as an image on a stamp, you don’t want to go squashing it.

Katipo spider: Diet.

You wouldn’t think a beach-dwelling spider would eat well. But the Katipo spider does exceptionally well in such a desolate environment.

Other spiders, flies, and moths are easy prey to a Katipo spider’s bite and venom. But when larger prey, like beetles, get caught up in its web, that’s when the Katipo spider shows off its true hunting skills.

The web of the Katipo spider is a masterpiece. Designed to catch larger insects than the spider itself, it has detachable ground anchor lines that act like the springs of a trap.

When an insect like a beetle gets caught in a Katipo spider web, its struggles only serve to snap off these ground anchor lines and leave the prey suspended off the ground and unable to escape the further tightening webbing.

Now, with its prey hanging helplessly, the Katipo spider moves in, holds it, spins it around, and layers it in more and more webbing. The mummified prey is then bitten and envenomated.

Are bites from Katipo spiders dangerous?

The Katipo spider is part of the genus Latrodectus (widow spiders). As such, it promises great pain and suffering when it bites. However, only the female bites with fangs large enough to get at human flesh.

Katipo spider bites result in symptoms including localized sweating in the area of the bite, pain, fever, malaise, shaking, and abdominal cramps. Treatment depends on the severity of the bite, but most cases require no professional medical care. Standard first aid includes the application of ice to the wound site and analgesics.

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Dennis V. Gilmore Jr.

Dennis V. Gilmore Jr. is a former Marine Sergeant and the author of several books, including two on night hunting coyotes and red and gray fox. He has written several hundred articles on predator hunting for ThePredatorHunter.com.

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