Mysterious Spider With Blood-Red Fangs Found in Australia

A scientist peeked under a rock and found an unusually coloured mutant of a venomous funnel-web spider.

By Carrie Arnold
Published 9 Nov 2017, 03:37 GMT
The red-fanged funnel-web spider poses, ready to strike.
Photograph by Mark Wong, The Australian National University

Until Mark Wong recently flipped over a rock in Tallaganda State Forest in New South Wales, Australia, it had been just another day of looking at spiders. Then, the ecologist spotted the burrow of Atrax sutherlandi, a funnel-web spider.

“I began poking at it with a stick, and I was amazed at what came rushing out at me. The first thing that caught my eye was the red fang,” says Wong. (Also see "New 'Blue Face' Peacock Spider Is Fancy Dancer.")

Normally, A. sutherlandi has a glossy black back and fang, as well as a deep-brown or plum underbelly. The spider that sprung from the burrow, however, had a blood-red belly and fang.

Wong knew immediately that he had made an once-in-a-lifetime discovery.

“I had never seen a funnel-web spider with those colours before"—and it turns out no one else had, either, says Wong, a National Geographic Young Explorer and Ph.D. student at the Australian National University in Canberra.

It's very common for individual animals, even spiders, to have different colours, says Amber Beavis, a spider expert and senior researcher at the Regional Australia Institute, an independent think tank in Canberra.

"There’s more variation than you might think,” Beavis says. But the red-fanged spider struck her as a particularly unusual find.

“I spent five years in this area looking for spiders, and I didn’t see anything like it.”

Why So Red?

A careful search of the area also didn’t yield any other spiders with similar colouring, says Wong. He brought the oddly coloured spider back to the lab, but it died.

He's not sure what gave this particular spider its scarlet hue, but it's likely some sort of genetic mutation.

The colour is also probably not for communicating with other funnel-web spiders, he says. Not only do A. sutherlandi mostly live in complete darkness, they're solitary and have notoriously poor eyesight.

Funnel-webs, which reach about two inches (five centimeters) in length, spend most of their lives in underground burrows, with males emerging only to look for mates.

The arachnids line their burrows with silk that vibrates when prey is at the entrance. Then, the spiders spring into action, just like Wong experienced firsthand.

Funnel-webs are also well known in Australia for their venom: Bites from the closely related Sydney funnel-web spiders (A. robustus) used to kill several people every year until scientists developed an effective anti-venom. (See "What Should You Do If You Find a Spider in Your House?")

A. sutherlandi are also venomous, although have killed far fewer people due to their remote habitats.

A normally colored female funnel-web spider (left) next to the oddly red specimen.
Photographs by Mark Wong, The Australian National University

Image Problem

Although the red-fanged arachnid isn't new to science, it's still special, Beavis adds.

"When we see these one-off examples that look different from every other members of their species, it gets people to look at spiders a bit differently,” Beavis says. (See "7 Bug and Spider Myths Squashed.")

“Spiders have a bit of an image problem. Lots of folks find them scary," she says.

Even Beavis. When she first started her Ph.D. research, “I was trying to do my work and one of them would move, and I would squeal. It was pretty undignified,” Beavis said.

Now, however, she has learned to love spiders—both as predators of many pest species and, like the red-fanged oddity, as simply beautiful creatures.

Follow Carrie Arnold on Twitter.


Read More

You might also like

These spiders feed their leftovers to carnivorous plants
Ogre-faced spiders have great hearing—without ears
New Pinocchio frog species has a strange, pointy nose
This spider accelerates faster than a rocket
Like chess players, these crows can plan several steps ahead

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2021 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved