Visitors Beware

I'm an aficionado of getting out into the great outdoors. Walking in the back country goes by many different names, depending on where you live. Hiking, rambling or bushwalking are some common terms, but in New Zealand we call it tramping, and people who do it are known as trampers.

A few years ago, I was fortunate to go tramping in Canada, mainly in the Jasper, Lake Louise, Banff area. One of the notable differences between Canada and New Zealand was how alert you have to be for dangerous wildlife. You see, in New Zealand, we don't have snakes, bears, moose, elk, porcupines, or indeed any mammals or reptiles that constitute a serious danger to life or limb.

Indeed, on a tramp in the New Zealand bush, the most common fauna are birds, with the occasional sign of opossums which are regarded as noxious pests in this part of the world, given that they have no natural predators, and constitute a major risk to the flora which they decimate.

So, it was with some irony that I read the following story which has appeared in the NZ news media today:

Katipo SpiderKatipo bites skinny-dipping tourist

A venomous katipo spider bite on his penis was the high price a tourist paid for a skinny-dip at a Northland beach.

The 22-year-old Canadian left his clothes in the sand dunes while he went for his nude swim and 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.

Northland Map
It would seem that a katipo spider nestled in this guy's underwear while he swam, and then went unnoticed when he redressed.

So, if you're ever in New Zealand near sand dunes, beware of katipo spiders. FWIW, I've lived here for more than 50 years, and I've never seen one, despite spending a reasonable amount of time in their habitat.

There are a number of west coast beaches north of Dargaville.
Driving from Dargaville to Whangarei takes about 45 minutes.

Whangarei is pronounced Fain ga ray and translates as cherished harbour
(Many Māori dialects pronounce ‘wh’ as an ‘f’ sound.)

Predatory Species



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