A mouse spider, Missulena species.
Mouse spiders are widely distributed across mainland Australia and are sometimes mistaken for funnel-web spiders.
1 October 2008 | Updated 14 October 2011
Mouse spiders are a kind of trapdoor spider and are widespread across mainland Australia. They can be found in both coastal and drier habitats but do not occur in tropical rainforests.
Female mouse spiders grow to three centimetres long and are black or dark brown in colour. They are very stocky with short, thick legs.
Males are smaller, growing to approximately two centimetres long. They have longer legs and long palps (an elongated, often segmented appendage usually found near the mouth in invertebrates used for sensation, locomotion, and feeding) which look like an extra pair of legs.
Both sexes have enormous fangs and fang-bases. A diagnostic structural feature is the very steep slope on the back of the head area.
Male red-headed mouse spiders, Missulena occatoria, have a red head and jaws with a blue abdomen, while male eastern mouse spiders, M. bradleyi, and northern mouse spiders, M. pruinosa, have a whitish patch on the top of the abdomen.
Mouse spiders should be considered dangerous and treated with caution as they can be aggressive and will bite if provoked.
Mouse spiders live in burrows in the soil, sealed with a hinged lid. The burrow provides a refuge from predators, parasites, low humidity and high temperatures.
They feed by lunging at passing prey from the burrow entrance. A female mouse spider is long-lived and will spend her entire life in the burrow. Females are rarely seen except when accidentally dug up.
Male mouse spiders leave their burrows at maturity (a couple of years old) to search out a mate, usually after rain. Mating takes place in the female's burrow, after which the male dies.
Pest status and management
A disturbed mouse spider will rear up defensively in a similar way to the funnel-web. Although few serious bites have been recorded, there is some indication that mouse spider venom is very toxic, so the spiders should be treated with caution.
If considered necessary, individual spiders can be killed as they are found. Mouse spider numbers are seldom high enough to warrant any concerted control measures.
If serious symptoms occur after a bite, funnel-web spider antivenene may be effective.
CSIRO Entomology is not currently researching mouse spiders. This fact sheet is provided for information only.
State museums and Canberra Connect in the ACT will usually provide identification and advice for the general public.
Read our fact sheet on the Funnel-web spider.