About 300 people are bitten by funnel webs every year, and about 60 of those ''are life and death situations'', said the park's educator, Michael Tate. “If you see a funnel web spider, and want to donate it to the park's milking program, avoid asking men or boys to catch it. They are statistically more likely to get bitten or to jump on it and kill it.
“Call a mature woman (is the recommendation), who is the least likely to get bitten, and ask her to bring an empty jar and follow the instructions in the video.” www.reptilepark.com.au
According to Tate the Australian Reptile Park on the Central Coast has only 30 male spiders to milk. It prefers to have more than 300 because it takes about 70 milkings to create a single dose of anti-venom. At the present rate, the park (the sole collector of funnel web venom) needs nearly three weeks to produce enough venom for one dose.
Australian Reptile Park's spider keeper, Julie Mendezona said that only the males are milked because they are six times more venomous than the female spider and they would like a few hundred in stock. The nature of Sydney's autumn and winter this year has seen an increased activity of the funnel webs. The funnel web spider has a surprising liking to suburban back yards let alone anywhere else.
We lived in Sydney from 1977-92 and my wife Delma has a green thumb who came across them from time to time. Moreover, whenever someone was bitten it reached the news, especially when a death occurs.
In the early seventies when as a locomotive engineman on the New South Wales Government Railways, I recall a mother in the Illawarra who was gardening was bitten by a funnel web and died. That incident remains vivid, for in that particular year, the locomotive driver on that shift was a green thumb and spoke of seeing them surprisingly regularly. That year's climate was not dissimilar to 2012.
We developed the Christian Tourism theme park Australia's Bush Orchestra in Moruya on the south coast of New South Wales from 1996 to 2006. This was a meander under the canopy of an Iron Bark forest with the remarkably incessant sound of the Bell Minor (Bellbird). Patrons could walk through the bush paths enjoying that typically Australian bush environment and also read the stories of great historical Christian leaders. It was on the tourist route as many tourist coaches visited as did the Historic Moruya Bus Tour which ran for some years.
One of the daily tasks was to keep the bush paths neat and tidy and one year had the services of an Aboriginal gentleman Mr Dennis Bond under a Government funded tourism program. Mr Bond had a comprehensive understanding where the funnel web nests might be and once found, and too near the bush paths, he knew how to clear them.
On one occasion he was doing the morning “check-walk” along the bush paths who happened to move some fallen bark. As his heavy boots cleared the bark away, out came a very fierce funnel web. It reared up, as they do, and he decided to take the better part of valour and moved away and later he took the long handled rake and cleared that whole section of the bush path wearing his heavy boots, long trousers with his low cut hockey shin pad leggings.
As an aside, Oscar the dog would lead tourists on the Australia's Bush Orchestra walk, and Oscar the Jack Russell dog was somewhat accomplished at this task. On one occasion an elderly British couple were on the walk. We saw them returning at a brisk rate. The response on inquiry was that this couple had seen the Lion and the Rhinoceros in Africa, the Tiger in India, but nothing competed with Oscar killing that black snake on the bush path.
At all times however they were alerted not to pick up bark and the like so as to be safe from such nasties as the funnel web.
The advice of the Australia Reptile Park is to avoid using takeaway containers because funnel webs can bite through them. A deep glass jar or a Tupperware container is perfect.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html