An Australian zoo is encouraging people to collect one of the world’s deadliest spiders

No one said milking venom from a spider was easy.
No one said milking venom from a spider was easy.
Image: Reuters/David Gray
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Among the many deadly creatures native to Australia, one of the scarier is the ”extremely aggressive“ funnel-web spider: Its bite can kill a person in 15 minutes.

Nevertheless, the Australian Reptile Park, a zoo located about an hour north of Sydney, is requesting that people collect live funnel-web spiders and deliver them to its offices. Not for fun, of course—but to help make the only cure for a funnel-web spider bite.

The Australian Reptile Park specializes in collecting snake and spider venom for Australia’s bioCSL, which manufactures the world’s only antivenoms (PDF) for funnel-webs and other Australian species. The park’s staff members are trained to “milk” the venom out of the spiders, which are difficult to breed in captivity. Up to 500 male funnel-web spiders—six times more venomous than females—are donated from areas around Sydney for this purpose each year.

Park operations manager Mike Drinkwater, speaking on NPR this weekend, acknowledged that catching the spiders is scary but necessary: “Whilst they are scary, whilst they are dangerous, we put a lot into educating people how to do it safely because without the public donations we simply wouldn’t get the spiders we need to create the antivenom we need to save lives every year.”

Peak funnel-web season, when Australian residents are likely to encounter the arachnids in backyards and homes, is from November to April. The Australian Reptile Park would like to ramp up its funnel-web population so enough antivenom can be made for the next few months.

Drinkwater advised that people capture the spiders using a large glass jar and a long stick or ruler—their fangs can puncture plastic containers. The Australian government cautions that “only adults should attempt” to catch the spiders. And the reptile park has an instructional video with more tips:

Since funnel-web antivenom was first produced in 1981, no one in Australia has died from a funnel-web bite.