Lonely Planet Writer

Scared of spiders? A new app will help you to identify Australia's creepy-crawlies

When travellers are heading to Australia, they sometimes worry about encountering deadly spiders, but a new app has been developed that will help people identify the creatures they meet along the way. Spidentify was developed by Alan Henderson who is known for his work in invertebrate education, and his daughter Caitlin, who works at Melbourne’s Minibeast Wildlife, which has commissioned the new app.

A Wolf Spider. Image: Alan Henderson, Minibeast Wildlife

“Australia has a reputation for deadly wildlife, and when it comes to spiders it’s really not deserved,” Caitlin tells Lonely Planet. “We have very few dangerous species, and no one has died here from spider venom since 1979. Travellers often don’t get that message, and they can easily spend their whole trip terrified that our very common and harmless spiders are going to kill them. One of Spidentify’s key features is a colour-coded danger rating, which will tell travellers straight away to be very cautious around the Sydney funnel-web, for example, and that the Huntsman is nothing to be concerned about.”

A Green Jumping Spider. Image: Alan Henderson, Minibeast Wildlife

Alan and Caitlin drove 3600km from Melbourne to Cairns in a van in 2016 to catalogue spiders for the app. They recall that several bewildered families spotted them climbing around bins or running out of toilet blocks yelling, “I found one!” “We spent six days stuck in a van together with two cameras and what looked like a grocery list of spider names,” says Caitlin. “Because of the style of Spidentify’s photos, it meant we had to wrangle these uncooperative spiders into mini-studio buckets we carried everywhere. At one point I was trying to get a Huntsman to stay put in the bucket, and it got away, ran up Dad’s shirt and hid in his armpit. I spent a while apologising for that one.”

Caitlin Henderson with a Netcasting Spider. Image: Alan Henderson, Minibeast Wildlife

The app shows people how to identify a spider against descriptions of more than 250 species, and allows them to browse region, spider family and habitat. Specialist macro photographer Alan, who worked on Melbourne Museum’s popular exhibition, Bugs Alive!, took the photos with Caitlin’s help, she wrote the descriptions and her partner, Cameron Hunt, did the coding. Her sister Annie Gonzalez did the graphic design, while her step-mum, Alan’s wife Deanna Henderson, manages Minibeast Wildlife and helped with additional content.

Cameron Hunt using Spidentify to identify a Net-casting Spider (Deinopis subrufa). Image: Minibeast Wildlife

Caitlin says the idea came about they have received thousands of requests from people over the years around identifying spiders, and that there is a lot of misinformation and conflicting information out there around various species. “It was pretty clear that people were both frightened and fascinated,” she says. “For us, it was important that we create something that really guides you through from the very beginning, gives you an answer to those simple questions, and puts some of the persistent mythology and fear surrounding spiders to rest.”

Alan Henderson ‘Spidentifying’ an orb-weaving spider. Image: Caitlin Henderson, Minibeast Wildlife

Reaction to the app has been extremely positive so far, and within hours of its launch, people were contacting the company to thank them for helping them finally identify that mystery spider that had been bugging them for years. “We’ve had downloads all over the world, and requests for international versions of Spidentify,” says Caitlin. “Watching people reconnect with the animals they see around them every day has been such a worthwhile experience. What’s also been great has been the acknowledgement from zookeepers and wildlife enthusiasts, who are already using Spidentify’s detailed field guide.”

Spidentify is an app to help people identify spiders. Image: Minibeast Wildlife

Spidentify is available on the App Store and Google Play. For further information, see the website here.