Sydney’s Australian Reptile Park issued a Christmas warning regarding the record-breaking number of “massive” funnel-web spiders coming home for the holidays.
“They’re even scaring me and I have to work with them,” said Dan Rumsay, Australian Reptile Park’s head of spiders, reptiles, and venom. The park has received a record number of donated creatures, as the arachnids deploy in force during the yuletide merriment.
And though the last fatal bite from a funnel-web spider was in 1981, its size and number has prompted Rumsay to advise extra caution. “Last year a boy was bitten and I got to meet him. [He] was putting on his Harry Potter costume to go to a dress-up party and a spider was actually hiding in the clothes basket, so when he put the costume on it bit him,” he said. “Make sure you’re checking all those things.”
The spiders are predominantly male, with legs spanning as much as ten centimeters — extraordinarily large, even for Australia. “That’s very large for these spiders without a doubt,” said Victoria Museum’s senior curator of entomology, Ken Walker. Their venom is also six times more potent than those of the female funnel-webs. So where are they coming from? Some blame the weather, but Walker disagrees.
“While there has been a lot of wild, wet weather in Sydney, the fact that mainly males have been handed in suggests to me that the weather really hasn’t been a major factor,” Walker explained. “This time of year is the typical time males mature, and once they mature they actually stop feeding and they just spend all of their time searching for females.”
For now, some of these eight-legged bachelors may yet prove a strange, creepy, gift: the Australian Reptile Park will milk them to make antivenom.