It’s not just sting rays, sharks and rip currents (about 40 people drown every year off the beaches) that you have to watch out for on New Zealand’s coastline but the venomous Katipo spider too. New Zealand may not be as safe as you think it is and this is one little beastie you’ll want to keep your eye open for if you ever visit the coastline.
Whilst enjoying a Northland beach a Canadian tourist was bitten in a very sensitive place by one of New Zealand’s more dangerous animals, the Katipo spider that’s related to the Black Widow. It resulted in a 16 day hospital stay, a dose of anti-venom, myocarditis (heart inflammation) and other symptoms and a ruined holiday.
There were at least 14 bites from this species of spider over a four year period to 2006 and none of them were from Northland
From Yahoo.co.nz News (NB. news articles based on the original press release omitted to mention the name of the Northland beach, however on 16 May it was revealed as Ripiro Beach West of Dargaville by the Northern Advocate)
“The 22-year-old Canadian left his clothes in the sand dunes while he went for his nude swim at a Northland beach.
He slept on his return, according to a report on the case in today’s online NZ Medical Journal.
He woke to find his penis swollen and painful with a red mark on the shaft suggestive of a bite. He rapidly developed generalised muscle pains, fever, headache, photophobia [light sensitivity] and vomiting,” wrote Dr Nigel Harrison and colleagues who treated him at Dargaville and Whangarei hospitals.
By the time the man reached Dargaville Hospital, his penis was severely swollen, his blood pressure was up and his heart beat racing.
Chest pain and other symptoms developed the next morning and it was presumed he had been bitten by a katipo. He was treated with anti-venom medicine and rapidly improved.
However, heart problems persisted and he was treated at Whangarei Hospital and Auckland Hospital before returning to Canada.
Katipo spiders are known to have a highly specialised habitat in New Zealand sand dunes and will bite only rarely, and in defence.
This was the first known case of myocarditis, or heart inflammation, caused by a bite, Dr Harrison said.
A prompt diagnosis and the use of anti-venom resulted in a good outcome for the tourist, he said.”
Back in 2006 a warning was issued to nudists to take care as Katipo thrived and were abundant on Whangarei’s Uretiti Beach, on the eastern coast of Northland, one spider specialist found 25 of them in an hour.
Update 10 April 2011:
An adventure kayaker was bitten on the leg by a katipo spider while camping at Mahia. Ex Hastings resident Jaime Sharp and Canadian Dave Briggs were kayaking down the North Island’s east coast after leaving 90 Mile Beach on February 7 .
Mr Sharp was walking through grass when he felt a sharp pain in his calf. The pain rapidly spread up his leg into his groin. Soon after he was unable to walk and his tongue began to swell and tingle.
The emergency services were called in an ad difficulty locating the pair in the remote terrain. By the time paramedics got to Mr Sharp he was in a bad way with chest constriction and heart symptoms and they had to administer adrenaline to revive him. Fortunately he recovered. Read about the pair here kayakdownundernz.blogspot.com
Wikipedia has an entry for the native to New Zealand spider:
“Latrodectus katipo, the katipo, is an endangered species of spider native to New Zealand. A member of the genus Latrodectus, it is related to the Australian redback spider, and the North American black widow spiders. The species is venomous to humans, capable of delivering a comparatively dangerous spider bite. Katipo is a Māori name and means “night-stinger”. It is a small to medium-sized spider with the female having a distinctive black body with a white bordered red stripe on its back. North of 39°15’S females do not have a red stripe and are all black. The male is much smaller than the female and quite different in appearance, being white with black stripes and red diamond shaped markings. Katipo have a narrow habitat, being only found living in sand dunes close to the seashore. They range throughout most of coastal New Zealand, but are not found at the southernmost regions. Spinning an irregular tangled web amongst dune plants or other debris, they feed mainly on ground dwelling insects.
After mating in August or September, the female produces five or six egg sacs in November or December. The spiderlings hatch during January and February and disperse into surrounding plants. Due to the loss of habitat and colonisation of their natural habitat by other exotic spiders, the katipo is being faced with extinction.
A bite from the katipo produces a toxic syndrome known as latrodectism. Symptoms include extreme pain and potentially systemic effects, such as hypertension, seizure, or coma. Bites are rare and deaths have not been reported since the 18th century. An antivenom is available in New Zealand for treatment. The katipo is particularly notable in New Zealand as the nation is almost entirely devoid of dangerous native wildlife. This unique status has led to the spider becoming well-known, despite sightings being very rare.“
New Zealand’s other potentially dangerous spider is the Whitetail whose bites can lead to serious and potentially life threatening symptoms, one woman in Rotorua was hospitalised for 4 days after one bit her on the arm. The head of the hospital’s emergency department said that as many as four people a week went to the hospital with mysterious bites. See story here