Male Sydney Funnel-Web Spider photographed by Tirin at the Reptile Park at Gosford

Anything even vaguely ‘Australian’ generally grabs my attention for good cause although honestly, there are occasions when I wish I was less attentive. One such occasion was on Monday evening, when I’d logged off from work at the Science Centre and had made my way home to have dinner.

As I was tucking into dinner, I flicked on the television and tuned into the NatGeo TV channel.  Unfortunately what was being broadcasted was something to the effect of Australia’s most deadly creatures.

I watched spellbound with intrigue as the camera panned to capture a Sydney Funnel Web Spider crawling its way into an urban home. The poor, traumatised resident had to dial Pest Control who swept into action.

By the time Pest Control showed up on the front door, the spider had nestled itself on a bean bag in one of the rooms. Thankfully, the resident was aware of its whereabouts after monitoring its every movement from a safe distance.

As the Pest Control expert stepped up, he gently picked up the bean bag and rotated it. The eight-legged black invader was spotted clinging to a corner of the bag. The expert then carefully set the bag down but even that was enough to jar the spider. It immediately lifted its front two legs and unveiled two ‘massive’ fangs!

This one wasn’t going down without a fight. Droplets of venom were faintly visible as the spider turned to face its ‘aggressor’ head-on. Not a pretty sight! You’d expect most spiders to back down and shuffle off into oblivion but not this one-Oh no!

Effortlessly (but taking great care not to injure the spider), the expert swiftly ‘eased’ it into captivity. The spider in the jar was then removed from the residency much to the relief of the home owner and quickly brought to the lab where they proceeded to extract spider venom that would be used as anti venom to potentially save the lives of hundreds of bite victims.

Mess not with the SFWS

According to CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), Sydney Funnel Web Spiders (or SFWS for short!) are found in the coastal and mountain regions of eastern and southern Australia.

These ‘bobby dazzlers’ have a shiny head and thorax and are large and black. Their body can range from 1.5 cm to more than 5 cm long. Female spiders are stockier than their male counterparts, with a bigger blue- or brown-coloured abdomen and smaller legs.

However, both males and females have small eyes that are closely grouped and most noticeably have long fangs that extend horizontally from the front of the head. Their fangs are so long, they have to tuck them underneath just so they can crawl properly!

They live in burrows in the ground or in stumps, tree trunks above ground. The most distinctive sign of a Funnel-Web’s burrow is the irregular silk trip-lines that radiate out from the burrow entrance. These trip lines alert the spider to possible prey, mates or danger. When a beetle or cockroach or even small skink walks across the lines, the spider senses the vibrations, races out and quickly subdues its prey by injecting venom from its large fangs.

The females live up to a staggering 20 years! Interestingly, they can live so long despite being mostly sedentary, passing their entire lives in the burrow, only venturing out to grab prey like lizards and frogs. Males on the other hand, remain in the burrow only for 2-3 years and then vacate the burrow in search of a mate. During mating, considerable sparring occurs until the female accepts the male.

Funnel-Webs cannot jump but they can move quickly and will rear up when irritated and make sudden lunges when striking. The funnel spider’s venom is highly toxic and fast acting although not all species are dangerous. Males wander at night especially after rain and can enter houses. Bites by males of the SFWS have resulted in death (Crikey!).

Thanks to the introduction of anti venom for the SFWS in 1981, no deaths have since occurred although it continues to remain an icon of fear and fascination for Australians and more specifically, has become a part of Sydney’s folklore.

I’m headed to Brisbane in July and I wonder what adventures await me then… hopefully nothing eight-legged I pray!

Posted by:Thomas Danny Jeyaseelan

I've been working for over 7 years at Science Centre Singapore... a place I've come to call "home" where science befriends and transforms me day by day! I love communications and this blog has given me a terrific opportunity to express myself in writing. I continually aspire to engage the community through my contributions. And would love to hear back from readers like you if you have something interesting to share (please leave a comment!). That would really encourage me! Am also looking forward to hitting the centennial mark with 100 posts. Am nearly 70% there. ;) I hope you have a great online experience on Stir-fried Science, enjoy all science has to offer, and be inspired to make or be the difference you wish to see in the communities you find yourself in.

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