During a devastating and unprecedented bushfire season, Australians in Sydney and the surrounding central coast were practically begging for rain.
A “bonanza” of deadly spiders was not exactly part of that request, and yet experts at the Australian Reptile Park strongly suspect that’s what’s coming.
“We are issuing a message of warning to the public as recent wet weather conditions followed by hot days have created perfect conditions for funnel-web spiders to thrive,” reads a video post on the park’s Facebook page.
It sounds terrifying, although, as the video’s title “FUNNEL WEB SEASON IS HERE” suggests, it’s not an entirely new experience for Sydney-siders.
Australia is home to at least 40 species of funnel web-spider. One of these is considered the most lethal spider to humans anywhere in the world; the incredibly venomous Atrax robustus is native to eastern Australia, and is known more colloquially as the Sydney funnel-web spider.
Each year, when the weather gets wet and humid, these invertebrates leave their burrows in droves, either forced by flooding or the enticement of a mate.
Male spiders of this species have a venom six times more potent than females, and experts say these are the ones to watch out for.
That sounds like bad news, and, for the unsuspecting Australian picking up a pile of clothes or putting on a shoe, it very well might be. But as long as everyone stays safe and aware, the Australian Reptile Park is actually excited by this mass movement of spiders and the opportunities it might bring.
Since the park’s anti-venom program began in the 1980s, there has not been a single human death from a funnel-web spider – and that’s not because people aren’t getting bit anymore.
Each year, in fact, approximately 30 to 40 bites are reported, but the park’s supply of funnel-web venom – the only such stockpile in the world – is used to create an anti-venom that has saved hundreds of lives.
To produce this antivenom, researchers first ‘milk’ the male spiders and then inject the result into a rabbit. Using the antibody this mammal later produces, a serum can be developed to ward off a similar attack in humans.
That’s why the prospect of a spider bonanza is so exciting. If you’re feeling up to it, the park asks any brave and prepared adult to try and catch the funnel-web they’ve stumbled across.
A park official explains in the Facebook video how to easily trap these creatures in a jar using a spoon or similar implement, keeping at least 20 centimetres away throughout.
Once the spider is in the jar, it can’t crawl up the slippery walls, so pop a wet cotton bud in for it to drink and take it to a drop zone in Sydney.
“Just by donating a spider to the reptile park you are contributing to saving people’s lives,” the video notes.
Of course, anyone who gets bitten during this funnel-web season should go straight to the hospital, so they can receive the anti-venom we are so lucky to have.