White-tailed Spiders have a dark reddish to grey, cigar-shaped body and dark orange-brown banded legs. The grey dorsal abdomen bears two pairs of faint white spots (less distinct in adults) with a white spot at the tip; the male has a hard, narrow plate or scute on the front of the abdomen. The two common species in southern Australia, Lampona cylindrata and L. murina, are similar in appearance and have overlapping distributions in the south-east. Their bites have been controversially implicated in causing severe skin ulceration in humans.
Males grow to 12 mm, Females 18 mm. White-tailed Spiders are vagrant hunters that live beneath bark and rocks, in leaf litter, logs and detritus in bush, gardens and houses.
They are most active at night when they wander about hunting for other spiders, their preferred food. They have been recorded eating curtain-web spiders (Dipluridae), daddy-long-legs spiders (Pholcidae), Redback Spiders (Theridiidae) and black house spiders (Desidae) During summer and autumn White-tailed Spiders are often seen in and around houses where they find both sheltered nooks and crannies and plenty of their favoured black house spider prey.
White-tailed Spider bites can cause initial burning pain followed by swelling and itchiness at the bitten area. Occasionally, weals, blistering or local ulceration have been reported - conditions known medically as necrotising arachnidism. As well as the spider's venom, minor bacterial infection of the wound may be a contributory factor in such cases.
A debate continues about the involvement of White-tailed Spider bite in cases of severe ulcerative skin lesions seen in patients diagnosed as probable spider bite victims. Typically, in such cases no direct evidence of spider bite is available. However, a recent study has monitored the medical outcomes of over 100 verified White-tailed Spider bites and found not a single case of ulceration (confirming the results of an earlier study). The available evidence suggests that skin ulceration is not a common outcome of White-tailed Spider bite.