Why catching a funnel web spider might save a life

A Sydney funnel web spider. Photo: file
A Sydney funnel web spider. Photo: file

Responsible adults, fancy catching a funnel web spider?

If the answer's yes then the Australian Reptile Park on the NSW Central Coast wants your help.

With funnel web season upon us - it's mating time and amorous males are out and about looking for romance - a captured, live funnel web is invaluable to the park right now.

"We've currently got about 150 funnel webs here, but we need about 400," Jake Meney, the park's reptile and spider keeper said.

"We're hoping with males moving around looking for females, we might be able to build our numbers up again quite quickly with the assistance of people capturing them.

"We milk the spiders to produce anti-venom and that's the number we need to keep our supplies up."

He says about 150 spiders need to be milked to produce one anti-venom.

So, what are the telltale signs that it's a funnel web you have lurking around?

"They're a fairly large spider, black and shiny," he said. "There are other black spiders out there, but the shine of a funnel web is really distinctive. That's what you're looking for."

The male is smaller than the female but more toxic. Mr Meney says its toxin is comparable to our most poisonous reptiles, such as a brown snake or tiger snake.

"They only inject a drop or two, but they have very long fangs so their delivery system is really good.

"It's a neurotoxin which means it affects the central nervous system and paralyses."

But since the anti-venom was discovered in 1981, there hasn't been a single death by funnel web.

Nonetheless Mr Meney says only responsible adults should attempt to catch a funnel web, but that it's not difficult if you're VERY careful.

"Funnel webs can't jump or climb a smooth surface," he said.

"So the best way is to get a large glass jar and lay it down in front of the spider. If you're lucky it will just walk in.

"If not, get something long, like a ruler or long spoon, and encourage it in."

When captured, each spider is milked weekly.

For those who can't make it to the park to drop their spider off, he said there are drop-off points, both in Sydney and as far north as Newcastle. A full list of drop-offs can be found on the Australian Reptile Park website.

I asked him what's involved with milking a spider?

"You poke their legs, basically annoy them until they rise up and bite."

This story Why catching a funnel web spider might save a life first appeared on The Maitland Mercury.