Latrodectus katipo

The katipō holds prominence in Māori culture because it is one of the few venomous species in Aotearoa, a country largely devoid of dangerous native wildlife. In the Māori language, it is known as the “night-stinger,” derived from “kakati” meaning “to sting” and “po” meaning “the night.” This unique designation reflects its reputation and role in Māori culture. While some tales depict the katipō as skilled builders and creators of decorative designs, such as among the Awa people of Whakatane, others portray it as a malevolent presence that hides among the shrubs. What sets the katipō apart is the fact that it is the only spider known to possess a confidently identifiable Māori name.

The katipō represents NZ’s very own widow spider (genus Latrodectus) – one of a genus that has struck fear into the heart of humans for centuries. Widows are normally associated with warmer countries but the katipō has become adapted for a life on the great kiwi coast. They are beautiful and iconic, and the only NZ endemic invertebrate that could cause serious medical issues. As a result, the katipō is a spider most kiwis have heard of but have never actually seen. Still, bites are incredibly rare; these spiders generally prefer to play dead when they feel threatened. Moreover, although its bite rarely proves fatal, the pain it causes may make you wish otherwise. In an intriguing case, an American researcher attempted to build immunity to black widow bites by allowing one to bite him. However, after the first bite, he was unwilling to subject himself to further bites.

The katipō is the only endemic and dangerous venomous spider species found in Aotearoa|New Zealand, and one of only two species of spider protected under schedule 7 of the Wildlife Act. There is a colour variation between the north and south katipō. The mature females of the northern species are predominantly black, while the southern populations retain a red band even in maturity. Initially, they were considered to be separate species, but genetic research has since classified them as a single species. Unlike SOME other widow species (looking at you, redback), the female doesn’t eat her mate during copulation.

The katipō is exclusively found in sand dunes, most commonly at the bases of dune grasses or under driftwood, typically feeding on crawling insects that stray into their webs. They live on the beach, in the sand, weathering storms and even surviving being flooded out with salt water occasionally. The decline of these sand dunes is directly impacting the katipō population, though it also faces competition and sometimes direct predation from invasive spider species. While some populations of katipō are quite healthy, they have disappeared from parts of their former range, which encompasses the dune systems of the North Island, the east coast and about halfway down the west coast of the South Island.

Check these links for more info on the Katipō in NZ

Wikipedia: Information on Katipō


Click on the image to visit the official observation. image © Luca Nikkel image @ Grahame