Funnel-web spiders sought for national antivenom program | St George & Sutherland Shire Leader

The recent wet weather and high humidity is enticing funnel-web spiders out of their burrows, and St George and Sutherland Shire residents are being asked to help catch the creatures for the national antivenom program.

Sutherland Shire and South Coast-based pest control expert Dylan Cope said funnel-web spiders had been on the move recently.

Mr Cope, who operates Dylan Cope Pest Control, said he had received many calls relating to suspected funnel-web spiders.

“It has been crazy in recent weeks. All the rain and the warmth makes the funnel-webs come out of their burrows because it is hot, and the rain also flushes them out,” he said.

“I have seen heaps of funnel-webs but have not caught any live ones.”

Live funnel-web spiders are sought by the Australian Reptile Park on the Central Coast, for its Spider Venom Program, which sees venom collected from spiders to be used in the manufacture of antivenoms that can save the life of a spider-bite victim.

Since Australia’s funnel-web spider antivenom program began in 1981, there have been no recorded deaths from a funnel-web bite. To keep up supplies, highly trained Australian Reptile Park staff regularly ‘milk’ spiders, before the venom is sent off to make antivenom.

The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in Victoria increased its minimum venom requirement from 300ml a year to 600ml due to an increase in funnel-web spider bites.

The Australian Reptile Park needs 300 to 400 spiders a year to keep up with demand for venom because males only live about six to nine months after reaching maturity.

Sutherland Hospital takes an active role in the program as one of only eight official collection points in Sydney. Live spiders can be dropped off at the hospital’s emergency department, 24 hours a day. They are then collected once or twice a week.

They can also be left at Symbio Wildlife Park, Helensburgh, seven days, 9.30am-5pm.

Funnel-web spiders traditionally come out of hiding in summer as they thrive in warm, humid and wet conditions, and are particularly active at night.

There are four types of funnel-web spiders found in southern Sydney – the Sydney funnel-web, Illawarra funnel-web, southern tree-dwelling funnel web and Blue Mountains funnel-web.

Better alive: Funnel-web spiders must be captured alive to be milked

Sutherland Shire is a prime funnel-web habitat.

While female funnel-webs mostly stay hidden in burrows, the much more venomous male leaves its burrow in summer to look for a mate as it nears maturity.

That is when unsuspecting people are most likely to come into contact with a funnel-web, either in the garden, pool, under towels and clothing or hidden in a shoe.

Funnel-web spiders love bushy, sloping areas, creeks and gullies. Backyard pools or anywhere wet or damp are also favourite hiding spots, with funnel-web spiders able to survive underwater for long periods.

Retaining walls, sleepers and garden beds may also harbour funnel-webs, which are a type of colonising spider. A 10-metre retaining wall could house as many as 20 to 30 funnel-webs.

Funnel-web spiders can only be milked if they are alive. They are best captured using a wide-mouthed jar, preferably with a screw-top lid, placed directly in front of the spider so it can walk in. Cheaper-style takeaway containers are not ideal as the lid can come off and the container can be brittle.

If possible, place damp cotton wool, soil or potting mix in the bottom of the jar and take it to the nearest collection point as soon as possible. Do not leave it in direct sunlight or a hot car or it will die.

Residents should take the following steps to protect themselves from funnel-web or other spider bites:

Do not leave clothes, shoes, towels, etc. on the floor

Check shoes before putting them on

Do not walk about at night without footwear

Do not handle spiders that appear to have drowned in pools, buckets, etc.

Wear gloves when gardening or working outside

The following first-aid steps apply:

Keep the bite victim calm and immobile

Apply a pressure-immobilization bandage to the bite site and the adjacent limb. For example, a bite on the finger should be treated by bandaging the entire arm. Further restrict movement by applying a splint

Seek emergency medical assistance immediately

For safety guidelines and more information click here

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