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The Funnel-Web Spider

In Australia there are over 40 known different species of funnel-web spiders that are considered to be placed in two basic quadrants: the Hadronyche and Atrax. These funnel-web spiders are not considered huge spiders; however, they can vary from small, around 1 to 2 cm, right up to over 5 cm in total body length. The males of all of the species are more slightly built than females.

Their body colour is generally brown to dark black and quite hairy in appearance except for the main body which is shiny with far less hair. At the end of the body’s main abdomen they have a pair of web spinning devices known as spinnerets.Not all of the funnel-web spider species are considered to be dangerous. There are, however, several that have been widely known and feared  for their highly toxic and extremely fast-acting venomous poison. This particular species is called the Sydney funnel-web spider.

It is considered that the male species of the Sydney funnel-web spider is probably responsible for all or most of the deaths in humans and the many medically serious bites. The male of the species is generally the most aggressive and is prone to activities involved in the pursuit of the female of the species for the sole purpose of mating that takes it into areas where humans have also have developed habitats and therefore obviously will come into contact more often.

An anti venom was discovered in 1981 and since that period there have been no recorded deaths. Prior to this the actual death count that is directly attributable to the Sydney funnel-web spider is 13. Because of their bite and their venom potency they have become widely known throughout the world. In Australia and particularly Sydney the mere mention of the word funnel-web spider can send shivers down the spine. They are a very aggressive spider, particularly the male, and will rear back displaying very sharp and ominous fangs that can penetrate the skin of a human being quite easily.

There are many places other species of funnel-webs reside in Australia ranging from the top of Queensland to the bottom of Tasmania. There are some species that are found also in the drier western slope of the Great Dividing Range and also in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. The very famous Sydney funnel-web spider, however, is found only on the east coast of New South Wales. They have been found as far south as Nowra, which is below Wollongong, and they have also been found as far west as Hartley, which is just east of Lithgow, and as far north as the outer edges of western Newcastle.

The male, given its roaming activities in the pursuit of a mate, will end up in various cargoes and can be found outside of these areas simply because of an opportunity to hitch hike accidentally. No females of the Sydney funnel-web have been found outside of the areas specified above.

Funnel-web spiders can live in a variety of sheltered habitats. They will burrow in the ground provided it is moist and soft. They love to be under rocks or under logs that are decaying and they will also hide in the outer edge bark of trees. They are generally not known to be in open areas as they like to take advantage of the cover of more dense areas. The name funnel-web spider is derived from the burrow that they will create as it has a distinctive funnel that is made by a series of silk web. If you discover this type of web in your proximity then it is very wise to avoid it.

The male is known to wander into homes looking for a mate and therefore it is wise to make sure that entry points such as insect screens and security screen doors, both sliding doors and hinged doors, are kept closed and in good condition. It is easy to become complacent, particularly during the colder winter months, and leave these unattended, in disrepair or, in the case of hinged screen doors, open. It is also wise to keep a good eye on any garden waste that may have formed during autumn and left during the colder months as this is a perfect moist habitat for the wandering male.

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