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What is a Funnel Web Spider?

The Funnel Web Spider is a notorious arachnid, famed for its potent venom and distinctive web structure. Native to Australia, these spiders are skilled burrowers, creating funnel-shaped lairs to ambush prey. Their bite can be dangerous, but with advances in antivenom, fatalities are rare. How do these creatures fit into our ecosystem? Join us to uncover their ecological role.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The funnel web spider refers to 36 species of spiders, which are indigenous to Australia. These arachnids tend to live in burrows, though a few species are tree dwellers. Some of the species are considered to be the most poisonous spiders on the earth, particularly to humans. Their venom is a powerful neurotoxin, which can, when injected through a bite, cause death if a person with a bite does not use antivenin, which is also known as antivenom. Fortunately, antivenin was quickly developed and is very effective. Since antivenin's inception, there has not been a reported death from a funnel web spider bite.

The funnel web spider is a large specimen of arachnid. Their body length can range from half an inch to 1.75 inches (1.5-4.5 cm). They are usually glossy black or brown, with a smallish head, and large body cavity, resembling the black widow, though they are kin to Wolf spiders. They also are very long-lived spiders, with females that can live for up to 10 years. The males unfortunately, are consumed by the female funnel web spider after mating occurs.

The funnel web spider is a large specimen of arachnid.
The funnel web spider is a large specimen of arachnid.

In fact, most bite incidents are a direct result of funnel web spider males looking for mates and wandering into human habitats, like garages or sheds. Unfortunately, the male is more lethal than the female, and their bites are more severe. When the male funnel web spider does not inadvertently come across humans, it lives for approximately 2-4 years, depending upon when it reaches sexual maturity, which can vary depending upon species.

Funnel web spiders are indigenous to Australia.
Funnel web spiders are indigenous to Australia.

Unlike many spiders, the funnel web spider will spend a long time in its place of birth, usually staying for up to 2 years after the egg sac has opened. This is uncommon among spiders, as many of them quickly leave their nest site. This habit may be attributed to their long lives, which are some of the longest on record.

The spider is quite easy to recognize because of the funnel web shape it builds around its burrow. The cylindrical shaping is an important warning to stay well away from a web of this kind. The web shape also forms an important means of catching insects, as the creature entangled in the funnel cannot simply get out. If it manages to free itself from the web, it will still be surround by webs on all sides.

A funnel web spider may feast upon small frogs.
A funnel web spider may feast upon small frogs.

Although insects account for the majority of the funnel web spider's diet, researchers have also documented the funnel web spider consuming small frogs and lizards, which are ready targets if they climb into a web. Even though the thought of this spider can give many of us a chill down our spines, like most poisonous spiders, it is extremely beneficial to its environment and indirectly to humans. With insect consumption comes a reduction in insects that can spread disease among humans on a larger scale than the very occasional contact with a spider.

Should you be in Australia, whether as a resident or a visitor, it is important to note that it is very important not to threaten a funnel web spider in any way. They are very territorial, and very aggressive, and will stand their ground in a fight despite a huge size difference in anything or anyone that threatens them. If you think you have contracted a bite, it is important to seek medical attention immediately or call for emergency help, as treatment is essential.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent AllThingsNature contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent AllThingsNature contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

Noblerabbit

Having lived in Australia as a kid I can honestly say I was most frightened of the Funnel Web.

They're that horrible combination of large(ish) and deadly, though my Dad eased my fears of this by telling me about the Redback, which is a fifth of the size but likes to hide under the toilet seat...

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    • The funnel web spider is a large specimen of arachnid.
      By: Henrik Larsson
      The funnel web spider is a large specimen of arachnid.
    • Funnel web spiders are indigenous to Australia.
      By: Tupungato
      Funnel web spiders are indigenous to Australia.
    • A funnel web spider may feast upon small frogs.
      A funnel web spider may feast upon small frogs.