A Sydney Funnel-web Spider (I'm pretty sure it was a SFW, as opposed to another species of FW; there are thirty-five described FW species) was lurking at my back door the other night. I think it was a female. I was somewhat surprised to see this Funnel-web, as it was very cold. I've only seen them in Sydney during hot months. Recent rains may well have flushed the spider from its burrow.
Poking the beastie with a long stick (I know, pure childishness) infuriated it (surprise, surprise) and it assumed its classic attack position, with forelegs held high. It struck the end of the stick twice with its fangs. After this, I crushed it with the point of a mop handle (I've got a child and a dog to think of).
It's hard to have an objective stance on SFWs. I think they're super-cool, but they do unnerve me. Maybe it's all that Hamlet-black - or the fact its venom (atraxotoxin) is the most deadly stuff in the animal kingdom.
In his detailed and attractive guidebook Spiderwatch, Bert Brunet says this about SFWs - 'All Funnel-webs should be approached with caution. Some species are now known to be among the most dangerous creatures in existence... the male Sydney Funnel-web is perhaps the deadliest spider in the world.' Brunet goes on to say fifteen people have died from SFW bites between 1936 and 1996 (the latter year was when Spiderwatch was published). Here's what Struan K. Sutherland mentions in his volume Venomous Creatures of Australia (1994), 'Children have died in less than 2 hours after being bitten.'
Here are some random points from both guides: the male's venom is five times more toxic than the female's; excessive sweat, tears and saliva result from a bite: after this, shock, brain damage and coma; they can sometimes live in substantial colonies (over one hundred individuals together); males, when wandering around looking for a mate, are at their most dangerous; they are from a lineage of rainforest spiders; sloping land near water is favoured habitat; the nest has a silk tube entrance; for most of the day, the spider huddles in the lower end of the nest in a purse-like chamber; preferred nesting haunts are under rocks and fallen timber.
I've never forgotten a moment from about twenty years ago (in north-west Sydney), when my father sprayed a SFW with Mortein. The thing, transformed into an albino spider, staggered about like some lost adventurer in the Himalayas, then died. This was comical and grotesque and sad all at once, really. Why didn't Dad just step on it?
I am privileged to have this iconic spider as a neighbour.
LJ, July 3 2011.