Latin Name: Atrax robustus
Region: South Eastern New South Wales, Australia
Apart from the rumour that you have half an hour to get to hospital to get the antivenom to live, these ugly little blighters make Aussies paranoid. This spider has created a folklore of its own. You are well advised, if you're out in the bush around Sydney and the coast where there's plenty of bush and forest, to always shake your boots and clothes to avoid putting on a garment or footwear with a deadly spider attached.
One resident known to this Researcher, put on clothes with a Funnel-web attached. To the great amusement of his mates he ran screaming in panic around the campfire, stripped naked and chucked the offending shirt and arachnid into the fire. It even caused him to drop his beer, which is an indictable offence in Australia.
Death By Spider
Although Funnel-web spiders live in North and South America, it's the Aussie version that's scariest. There are two types in the land down under: the Northern funnel-web and the Sydney funnel-web. You don't want either to bite you on the butt but of the two, the Northern is technically more venomous. Thankfully, this particular model of the toxic creepy-crawly usually lives miles away from humans in the peace and quiet of remote wooded areas away from towns and cities. But not so the Sydney funnel-web which can be found in more populated areas. In fact, its habitat is thought to be concentrated on a relatively small 160-kilometre area around Sydney itself, mainly in the moist upland forest areas of the Hornsby Plateau to the north, and the Woronora Plateau to the south. The dry, flatter areas of western Sydney and the Cumberland Plain don't provide quite the right environment for funnel-webs so there are less of them to worry about.
Be warned though: the Sydney variant likes to hide underneath houses. It can also be found in wooded areas in populated neighbourhoods, in hedges and gardens. Also check your crumpled clothing on the floor, dusty equipment stored in the garage, in fact anything in the shed, the swimming pool (they're attracted to water) and the kids' sandy play pit.
Funnel-web spiders make exactly that: webs that look like funnels. They look a bit like the wind socks you see at airports. The entrance to the web is noticeably rounded and our fang-fiend will loiter hidden at the rear of the web waiting for insects to drop by. If you see what looks like a funnel-shaped web does not disturb it, stick your hand in it or poke it with a stick.
The funnel-web venom contains atraxtoxin which attacks the nerves of the body sending out thousands of electrical impulses. The muscles then start to twitch violently and the victim begins to sweat profusely, not unlike the Aussie male when deprived of his beer. It's important to seek medical help at this point. For both the spider bite and the DTs1.
Nowadays though, people don't generally die from Sydney funnel-web spider bites. However, the very young, the sick and the elderly remain most vulnerable. In the last 100 years, there have been 13 recorded human fatalities due to funnel-web spider bites. Most of the fatalities were sadly youngsters and the offending spiders in most, if not all, cases are likely to have been aggressive wandering males looking for a mate. The spiders are about 35 millimetres long and when approached will often rear up into an offensive 'ready-to-strike position'. They have very large fangs that are strong enough to penetrate a child's fingernail. Although the fangs are pretty impressive, due to nature's design they actually only curve downwards, so the spider can only bite in a downwards fashion, from above the victims skin. Therefore, it is actually quite safe to step on the little buggers with bare feet, because they won't actually be able to inject their venom upwards!
Thankfully, in 1980, an anti-venom to the Sydney funnel-web's bite was invented and to date this has largely stopped incidences of death by spider.
It must be noted that young Australian males take great joy in picking up the harmless but large and hairy Huntsman spider, calling it a Funnel-web and chasing pretty blonde female British tourists with it, inviting uproarious laughter from the screams of sheer terror.
There is also a charmingly named place out the back of Sydney NSW, beyond Warragamba dam, called 'Funnel Web Falls'. This Researcher has never been there; it's a three-day walk on iron rations. Mind you, a valley full of creepy, deadly Funnel-webs won't entice the average tourist to make a visit any time soon.