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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, June 19) – A venomous female redback spider with two egg sacs has been found on Rarotonga, on the outside of a sea freight container that arrived from New Zealand.

Entomologist Dr Maja Poeschko says that a worker at the wharf actually came across the spider on 14 June and contained it. He had seen the redback spider in a zoo in Australia, and was well aware of how venomous it was.

A Customs officer at the wharf contacted Dr Poeschko, who says that the spider is highly poisonous.

As an emergency response, the container and the surrounding area were sprayed by research staff of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Dr Poeschko says it was fortunate that the spider in its web was discovered before the egg sacs hatched and the redback spider spread to others areas. Each egg sac can contain approximately 250 eggs and only one to three weeks need to pass before more eggs can be laid. The spiderlings emerge after about 14 days and disperse on the wind as soon as conditions are right. This is how the spiders turn up in new places or quickly recolonise areas from which they have previously been removed.

Redback spiders are originally from Australia but they have been established in limited areas in New Zealand since the 1980s.

The female spiders have a black rounded body (the size of a pea) with sender legs and an orange to red jagged stripe on its back with an hourglass shaped red-orange spot on the underside of the abdomen. Adult males are slender with a cream abdomen with brown stripes.

Dr Poeschko says that there is a chance that incidents of the spider arriving on the island had occurred unnoticed in the past.

The infamous Australian redback spider is known for inhabiting the underside of toilet seats and biting bottoms. Prior to the introduction of the specific antivenom in 1956, 13 deaths caused by redback spider bite were recorded in Australia.

A safe antivenom has been available since 1956 but delay in giving it may occur if the spider is squashed beyond recognition. Around 78 percent of bites are on hands, feet, and the extremities and initially the bite causes little discomfort. Later intense pain begins and uniquely the bitten area sweats profusely. The shortest time recorded between the bite and death is 54 hours.

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