Funnel-web spiders (Atracidae), the most notorious members of Australia’s spider fauna, are found in eastern Australia. There are at least 40 species of funnel-web spiders and they are currently placed in two genera: Hadronyche and Atrax. They are medium to large spiders, varying from 1 cm – 5 cm body length. Males are more lightly built than females. Body colour can vary from black to brown but the hard carapace covering the front part of the body is always sparsely haired and glossy. The lateral pair of spinning organs (spinnerets) at the end of the abdomen are longer and easily visible in Atrax spp. but often shorter in Hadronyche spp.
Not all species are known to be dangerous, but several are renowned for their highly toxic and fast acting venom. The male of Atrax robustus, the Sydney Funnel-web Spider, is probably responsible for all recorded deaths (13) and many medically serious bites. This remarkable spider has become a part of Sydney’s folklore and, although no deaths have been recorded since the introduction of an antivenom in 1981, it remains an icon of fear and fascination for Sydneysiders.
The Sydney Funnel-web Spider is believed to be limited to an area of about 160 kilometres from the centre of Sydney. Other species of Funnel-Web Spider are found in Eastern Australia, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. They are probably one of the most venomous aggressive spider in the world, all funnel web species should be treated as dangerous to humans, not just the Sydney or Northern tree dweller. However, species so far proven dangerous to humans have a more limited range, largely limited to eastern parts of NSW and SE Queensland. The only proven killer, the Sydney funnel web spider, is restricted to the Sydney region and adjacent areas to the north and south of the city, including Gosford. If they bite you, it is usually a pretty deep injection but even a small grazing bite means get to hospital immediately.
How to identify dangerous Funnel-web Spiders
- Shiny carapace
- Deeply curved groove (fovea)
- No obvious body pattern
- Eyes closely grouped
- Four spinnerets, largest with last segment longer than wide
- Lower lip (labium) studded with short, blunt spines
- Modified male second leg (usually with a mating spur or grouped spines)
An obvious, conical projection or ‘spur’ on the lower side of the middle segment (tibia) of the second leg (about halfway along) is characteristic of the genus Atrax, exemplified by the Sydney Funnel-web Spider, Atrax robustus. Males of all other funnel-web species (currently placed in the genus Hadronyche) either have a blunt, spine-covered tibial swelling, or a few spines only, on the second leg. Note also the mating organ on the male palp.
Info The Australian Museum website. (more info on this site)
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