But Redbacks should not be messed with. Thirteen deaths have been recorded in Australia from Redback envenomation, all prior to 1956 when an antivenom was introduced. However, up to several hundred people are treated each year with antivenom for Redback Spider bites, mostly during the warmer months. The young and frail are most at risk if bitten.
A male Redback Spider leads a short and hazardous life. He does not build a web, but lurks on the female's web and performs an elaborate courtship routine in order to establish if the female is receptive. I have observed this strumming of the web and constant advances and retreats by the male. He dashes to the perimeter of the web if mother does not accept his advances. There's no sense becoming a meal before passing on genes.
Mating in Redback Spiders is characterised by sexual cannibalism. The male makes the ultimate sacrifice, offering his body to the female as a meal either during or after copulation. The female will construct spherical egg sacs to contain her eggs.
The male Redback (3 to 4 millimetres in body length) top left with spiderlings
The female often constructs a tightly woven thimble-like haven under cover at the top of the web which serves as a retreat during daylight hours or when disturbed (illustrated in first picture). A haphazard network of trip-lines extend to the ground to ensnare invertebrates and even small lizards.
Struggling prey will alert the female, who then wraps the meal in silk to immobilise it before safely biting it.
The female Redback, Latrodectus hasselti
Common prey I have seen trapped in Redback webs are Wolf Spiders, beetles, slaters and garden snails, along with the occasional centipede. When she has sucked out the juicy contents, she will drop the empty 'shells' under her web. Upon close inspection, I have seen the dismembered fangs of Wolf Spiders, Lycosa godeffroyi, alongside the discarded hollow bodies.
A large beetle becomes a Redback's meal