Sydney Funnel Web Spiders: Aggressive and Capable of Inflicting a Painful Bite

Updated on May 23, 2018
Casey White profile image

Dorothy is a former newspaper reporter and the author of several books. Michael is a professional landscape/nature photographer.

The Sydney funnel web spider is the most venomous spider in Australia and the second-most venomous spider in the world.  It is black with a shiny, hairless front section.   The abdomen is dark plum to black.
The Sydney funnel web spider is the most venomous spider in Australia and the second-most venomous spider in the world. It is black with a shiny, hairless front section. The abdomen is dark plum to black. | Source

Aggressive Attackers

Australia is home to lots of creatures that have the ability to kill you. The Sydney funnel-web spider is no exception and it's willing to attack. Unlike most other spiders, the Sydney funnel-web spider is very aggressive and will ambush and bite its victim several times with some killer fangs that can cut through thick leather. Those fangs point downward, but they are as sharp as needles and longer than the fangs of some snakes. The spider will cling to the victim until it is done delivering its venom so it's best to do what most other spiders do - avoid confrontation with these aggressive arachnids.

The male Sydney funnel-web spider has venom that is six times stronger than that of the female, the reverse of which can be said of almost all other spiders. The venom is a fast-acting neurotoxin that can short out the synapses in the nerves and halt the relaxation cycle. This causes the victim to suffer extreme symptoms, including vomiting, confusion, palpitations, muscle spasms and brain swelling within only a few minutes.

The male spider has a venom component that the females do not have. The toxin is called Robustoxin (d-Atracotoxin-Ar1) and is the chemical ingredient that causes them to be a dangerous concern to most humans. Although the chemical affects humans, apes, and monkeys with a vengeance, other mammals (like dogs and cats) are affected very little.

There were 15 deaths from 1927 to 1981, but in 1981 an effective antivenom was developed by Struan Sutherland at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in Melbourne and there have been no deaths since that time. But, make no mistake...this spider packs a painful punch, and what if you aren't able to get to the antivenom?

The Australian Reptile Park, north of Sydney, is the only place in the world where the Sydney funnel web spider is milked. The venom is then sent off to the Commonwealth Serum Labs, also in Australia, to become antivenom.
The Australian Reptile Park, north of Sydney, is the only place in the world where the Sydney funnel web spider is milked. The venom is then sent off to the Commonwealth Serum Labs, also in Australia, to become antivenom.
You can find Sydney funnel-web spiders living in silken webs constructed either underground or within hollow trees. Most of the time they are found in moist habitats within forest areas. They rush out when any prey lands on their web.
You can find Sydney funnel-web spiders living in silken webs constructed either underground or within hollow trees. Most of the time they are found in moist habitats within forest areas. They rush out when any prey lands on their web.

What to Do in Case of a Bite

Get help immediately if you have been bitten because the venom is fast-acting and potentially lethal if you are not treated within a matter of hours. Almost any healthcare facility should have the anti-venom on hand, but if you can't get professional care quickly, use the pressure immobilization technique (apply pressure over the bite, keeping the affected part of the body still to keep the venom from spreading through the bloodstream).

If you don't know for certain which type of spider caused the bite, take the spider with you to the healthcare facility so they can make the proper identification. You may have to spend some time in the hospital to recover from the effects of the venom, depending upon the severity of the laceration.

Struan Sutherland working to create an antivenom to the Sydney funnel-web spider in Australia. His efforts were successful and the antivenom was created in 1981.  Since that time, there have been no deaths reported due to this venomous spider's bite.
Struan Sutherland working to create an antivenom to the Sydney funnel-web spider in Australia. His efforts were successful and the antivenom was created in 1981. Since that time, there have been no deaths reported due to this venomous spider's bite.

Struan Sutherland

Not only did Struan Sutherland lead the efforts to create an antivenom to the Sydney funnel-web spider, he also revolutionized the treatment of snake bites by developing the pressure-immobilization first-aid technique and venom detection kits, although he left the laboratory for which he was working under less than desirable circumstances due to the laboratory's lack of commitment to his projects.

In 1994, he founded the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne's department of pharmacology. He worked there until he retired in 1999.

Sutherland was also a prolific author, having written many books on a subject that he had spent a lifetime studying. This is a list of some of the books he wrote:

  • Australian Animal Toxins
  • A Venomous Life
  • Venomous Creatures of Australia
  • Take Care!: Poisonous Australian Animals
  • First Aid for Snakebite in Australia: With Notes on First Aid for Bites and Stings by Other Animals
  • Management of Snake-bite Injuries

Sutherland became a household name in Australia for his expertise in the area of venomous creatures. He died at the age of 65 after battling a degenerative brain disease (striatonigral degeneration) and his final bit of writing was his own funeral notice, which read: “Struan would like to inform his friends and acquaintances that he fell off his perch on Friday, 11th January, 2002.”

References

  1. https://theculturetrip.com/pacific/australia/articles/toxic-feared-7-facts-about-the-sydney-funnel-web-spider/ (Retrieved from website on 5/9/2018)

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    © 2018 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

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