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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Evidence that redback spiders are true Australian natives? 

There has been some doubt expressed over the years as to whether the Australian spider, the redback, Latrodectus hasseltii, is truly endemic to this continent.

As Wikipedia notes, "Its origins are uncertain, and it may have been spread by human activities during the 19th century. The species was known by 1850 in South Australia, only 14 years after European settlement there, but was not reported in early spider collections in other colonies." Also, Trevor Hawkeswood in his "Spiders of Australia" notes that some authorities have considered that the redback spider found in Australia is not a native, but is instead related to the North American black widow spider. This Australian Museum article also mentions the suspicions that the redback is actually an introduced species. One of the commenters on that article made a point that has sometimes been raised, that there is no Aboriginal name or mythology recorded for the redback spider, which is surprising for such a common and distinctive creature, and might suggest that the spider is not a native.

However the recent observation that a spider wasp native to Australia, Agenioideus nigricornis, now known as the redback spider-hunting wasp, is a parasitoid of the redback spider, strengthens the case for the redback spider itself being a true native of Australia.

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