Background: Necrotic arachnidism continues to be attributed to wolf spider bites. This study investigates the clinical effects of bites by wolf spiders in Australia (family Lycosidae).
Methods: Subjects were recruited prospectively from February 1999 to April 2001 from participating emergency departments or state poison information centers. Subjects were included if they had a definite bite by a wolf spider and had collected the spider, which was later identified by an arachnologist. Spiders were identified to the lowest taxonomic level possible and cephalothorax width was measured to correlate bite effects and spider size.
Results: There were 45 definite wolf spider bites (23 male and 22 female patients; age range 1 to 69 years, median age 28 years). Species level identifications (14 species) were possible for 31 of 43 spiders belonging to seven different generic groupings. Most bites were by spiders from four generic groupings, Tasmanicosa (including 'Lycosa') (15), Venatrix (8), Venator (10), and Hogna (7). Bites occurred more commonly in south-eastern Australia and occurred throughout the year, with 7 bites (16%) in late autumn or winter. In 7 cases (16%) the person was swimming in or cleaning a pool. Seventy-two percent of bites occurred on distal parts of limbs. Pain occurred in all bites and was severe in 11 cases (24%), with a median duration of 10 min (IQR: 2-60 min). Other effects included puncture marks/bleeding (33%), swelling (20%), redness (67%), and itchiness (13%). Minor systemic effects occurred in three patients (7%): nausea (two), headache (one) and malaise (one). There were no cases of necrotic ulcers [0%; 97.5% CI 0-8%]. Tasmanicosa spider bites caused significantly more itchiness and redness, and large spiders (>5 mm) more often caused severe pain and left fang marks.
Conclusion: Wolf spider bites cause minor effects, no more severe than most other spiders, and do not appear to cause necrotic ulcers. The effects are likely to be due to mechanical injury, although minor local envenomation occurs with Tasmanicosa bites.