Hunting for one of the world’s most dangerous spiders to get its venom


Only a bit of plastic separates Scott Johnson from one of the most toxic spiders in the world. On his espresso desk in Engadine, New South Wales, Australia, there are a number of clear containers wherein Sydney funnel-web spiders sit on peat moss.

From this angle, the animals don’t appear so threatening – they simply slot in the palm of your hand. And but, the dreaded Sydney funnel-webs, as they’re referred to as of their native nation, can kill a human in lower than an hour.

Johnson is a spider hunter in his spare time and specialises on this explicit species. When he fastidiously tries to switch a specimen from one container to one other with a steel rod, the spider stretches, climbs over the edge – and escapes. But it lands in a deep plastic tub that Johnson makes use of for such manoeuvres.

“Funnel webs cannot climb glass. They cannot climb smooth non-porous vertical surfaces,” says Johnson, 42. “So that means very smooth shiny plastic and glass containers are usually the best bet. They just have to be tall enough.”

The Australian has at all times been fascinated by spiders and is aware of nearly every little thing about them. Even as a toddler, he dug Sydney funnel-web spiders out of the floor and handed them in to the authorities. Since then, he has learn every little thing on the topic – additionally to have the opportunity to give the proper ideas to laypeople in search of recommendation.

About 30 to 40 people are bitten by such a spider every year but Scott Johnson’s efforts are helping find an antidote to the venom. Photo: dpa/Scott JohnsonAbout 30 to 40 persons are bitten by such a spider yearly however Scott Johnson’s efforts are serving to discover an antidote to the venom. Photo: dpa/Scott Johnson

Four years in the past, he began a Facebook web page calling for details about the dangerous spiders and providing to choose them up from individuals who discover them. He additionally searches for the eight-legged creatures in the Australian bush.

There are 36 species of funnel-web spiders. The male of the Sydney species (Atrax robustus), discovered inside a 160km radius of the Australian metropolis, is the most dangerous – and along with the Brazilian wandering spider has made it into the Guinness Book Of Records as the most toxic spider in the world.

Those who’re bitten are quickly conscious: The first symptom is a tingling mouth, then a twitching tongue, adopted by heavy sweating and muscle cramps.

Without an antidote, the sufferer can die inside a short while from a mixture of hypertension, elevated coronary heart fee and shortness of breath.

About 30 to 40 persons are bitten by these spiders yearly. So far, nevertheless, solely 13 deaths have been linked to the species, which is endemic to Australia. Since an antidote was developed in 1981, no one has died from a chew.

Nevertheless, the spider species shouldn’t be a preferred home visitor. When Leanne Paull from Heathcote in Sydney’s south obtained a name from her 15-year-old son at work one morning, she dropped every little thing and drove dwelling. A funnel-web spider had made itself at dwelling in her lounge.

“I tried to catch it and put a container over the top of it but I missed. And then it got a bit cranky,” says Paull. “I just went outside and waited for the next person to go past and I stopped this guy who was jogging and asked him to come and help me.”

The man passing by managed to catch the spider and advised Paull about spider hunter Scott Johnson.

At the second, individuals notify Johnson nearly day by day on Facebook, as extraordinarily wet climate on Australia’s east coast lures many creepy crawlies out of their hiding locations.

Ideally, Johnson instantly recognises the species from pictures. “Most spiders have eight eyes. You can almost always tell which species it is by their arrangement,” he says.

As quickly as he has collected about 5 to 10 specimens, about each fortnight, he brings the animals to the Reptile Park close to Somersby north of Sydney. Here, it’s primarily the males which are wanted. They are 5 to six instances extra toxic than the females, and their toxin is especially appropriate for the manufacturing of an antidote, because it’s additionally efficient in opposition to bites by different species too.

“We rely heavily on the public handing in funnel-web spiders and would not be able to help save lives if it weren’t for their generous donations,” Tim Faulkner, Reptile Park’s director, stated in a current assertion.

Reptile Park is the solely place in Australia the place the males are milked for their venom, a fragile activity.

“Spider keepers at the Australian Reptile Park must use steady hands and extreme focus to milk funnel-web spiders,” stated a spokesperson.

“Using a glass pipette on the end of a small vacuum, keepers encourage the funnel-web spider to rear up in a defensive position and then gently suck the venom from the end of the spider’s fangs,” she says.

The secretion is then despatched to the antidote’s producer, Seqirus, in Melbourne.

For simply one ampoule of antidote, up to 150 spiders have to be milked. But the males can solely be milked for a most of one yr, as a result of then they die naturally.

Johnson takes his work significantly. “I take all of the spiders up personally,” he says.

Asked on Facebook whether or not he sells the toxic animals to personal people looking for to hold them as pets, Johnson says no. His purpose it to assist the neighborhood and ensure no one dies of a spider chew. – dpa/Michelle Ostwald

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