Sydney funnel-web spider

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Sydney funnel-web spider
Atrax Robustus.jpg
Male (top) and female Atrax robustus
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Arachnida
Order: Araneae
Infraorder: Mygalomorphae
Family: Hexathelidae
Genus: Atrax
Species: A. robustus
Binomial name
Atrax robustus
O.P.-Cambridge, 1877[1]
  • Euctimena tibialis Rainbow, 1914
  • Poikilomorpha montana Rainbow, 1914

The Sydney funnel-web spider (Atrax robustus) is a species of Australian funnel-web spider usually found within a 100 km (62 mi) radius of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It is a venomous mygalomorph spider with a bite capable of causing serious injury or death in humans if left untreated.[3]


The Reverend Octavius Pickard-Cambridge was the first to describe the Sydney funnel-web spider, from a female specimen in 1877. It still bears its original name of Atrax robustus. Some years later, William Joseph Rainbow described a male Sydney funnel-web as Euctimena tibialis, and female specimen as Poikilomorpha montana, before all were found to be the same species.[2] The species name is derived from the Latin robustus "strong/sturdy/mature".[4]

As of January 2016, Atrax robustus is one of three species of the genus Atrax in the family Hexathelidae.[5] The Sydney funnel-web spider shares its name with some members of the genus Hadronyche. It remains, together with the northern tree funnel-web, the only Australian funnel-web spider known to have inflicted fatal bites on humans.[6]


Female Sydney funnel-web spider in a warning posture

The Sydney funnel-web is medium to large in size, with body length ranging from 1 to 5 cm (0.4 to 2 in). Both sexes are glossy and darkly coloured, ranging from blue-black, to black, to brown or dark-plum coloured. The carapace covering the cephalothorax is almost hairless and appears smooth and glossy. Another characteristic are finger-like spinnerets at the end of their abdomen.[7] The shorter-lived male is smaller than the female but longer legged.[6] The average leg length for the spider in general is six to seven centimeters.[8]


Sydney funnel-web spiders are mostly terrestrial spiders, favouring habitats with moist sand and clays. They typically build silk-lined tubular burrow retreats with collapsed "tunnels" or open "funnel" entrances from which irregular trip-lines radiate over the ground. In some exceptions, which lack trip-lines but may have trapdoors, the silk entrance tube may be split into two openings, in a Y or T form. Sydney funnel-webs burrow in sheltered habitats where they can find a moist and humid climate, for instance under rocks, logs or borer holes in rough-barked trees.[7][9] The burrow may be in the hollow of a tree trunk or limb, many metres above ground level.[citation needed] The long-lived female funnel-webs spend most of the time in their silk-lined tubular burrow retreats. When potential prey, which includes insects, lizards or frogs, walks across the trip-lines, they rush out, subduing their prey by injecting their venom.[7][9] Males, recognized by the modified terminal segment of the palp, tend to wander during the warmer months of the year, looking for receptive females to mate with.[10] This makes encounters with male specimens more likely as they sometimes wander into backyards or houses, or fall into swimming pools. The spiders can survive such immersion for up to twenty-four hours, trapping air bubbles on hairs around their abdomen.[7] The spiders are mainly active at night, as typical day-time conditions would dehydrate them. During the day, they seek cover in cool, moist hideaways. After heavy rain, spider activity is increased as their burrows may be flooded.[9] When threatened or provoked, funnel-web spiders will display aggressive behaviour, rearing up on their hind legs and displaying their fangs.[9][11] When biting, the funnel-web spiders maintain a tight grip on their victim, often biting repeatedly.[11]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Distribution is primarily south of the Hunter River to the Illawarra region, and west to the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.[citation needed]

The spider can be found in moist areas, including under logs and foliage.[8]

Bites to humans[edit]


Funnel-web spider venom contains a compound known as atracotoxin, an ion channel inhibitor, which makes the venom highly toxic for humans and other primates. However, it does not affect the nervous system of other mammals.[7] These spiders typically deliver a full envenomation when they bite, often striking repeatedly, due to their defensiveness and large chitinous cheliceral fangs. There has been no reported case of severe envenoming by female funnel-web spiders, which is consistent with the finding that the venom of female specimens is less potent than the venom of their male counterparts.[11][12] In the case of severe envenomation, the time to onset of symptoms is less than one hour, with a study about funnel-web spider bites finding a median time of 28 minutes. This same study revealed that children are at a particular risk of severe funnel-web envenoming, with 42% of all cases of severe envenoming being children.[12] There is at least one recorded case of a small child dying within 15 minutes of a bite from a Sydney funnel-web spider, though that event occurred before the development of an antivenom.[13]


Main article: Antivenom

The antivenom was developed by a team headed by Struan Sutherland at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in Melbourne.[14] Since the antivenom became available in 1981,[15] there have been no recorded fatalities from Sydney funnel-web spider bites.[7][12] In September 2012, it was reported that stocks of antivenom were running low, and members of the public were asked to catch the spiders so that they could be milked for their venom. One dose of antivenom requires around 70 milkings from a spider.[16]

As part of its milking programme in January 2016, the Australian Reptile Park received a male Sydney funnel-web spider with a 10-centimetre (4 in) leg span. The spider was described by the park as the largest specimen that it had seen.[8]


The bite of a Sydney funnel-web is initially very painful, with clear fang marks separated by several millimetres.[17] The size of fangs is responsible for the initial pain.[18] In some cases the spider will remain attached until dislodged by shaking or flicking it off.[19]


A funnel-web bite is regarded as a medical emergency requiring immediate hospital treatment.[20]

Current guidelines for antivenom recommend two vials, or four vials if symptoms of envenomation are severe. Patients are assessed every fifteen minutes, with further vials recommended if symptoms do not resolve.[21]


  1. ^ "Taxon details Atrax robustus O. Pickard-Cambridge, 1877", World Spider Catalog (Natural History Museum Bern), retrieved 21 January 2016 
  2. ^ a b Gray, Michael R. (2010). "A revision of the Australian funnel-web spiders (Hexathelidae: Atracinae)". Records of the Australian Museum 62 (3): 285. doi:10.3853/j.0067-1975.62.2010.1556. 
  3. ^ Alcock, MD, MS;, Joe. "Funnel Web Spider Envenomation / Pathophysiology". Medscape Reference. Retrieved 3 November 2012. 
  4. ^ Brunet, Bert (1997). Spiderwatch: A Guide to Australian Spiders. Reed. p. 91. ISBN 0-7301-0486-9. 
  5. ^ "Gen. Atrax O. Pickard-Cambridge, 1877". World Spider Catalog. Natural History Museum Bern. Retrieved 27 January 2016. 
  6. ^ a b "Funnel-web spider", CSIRO, 14.10.2011. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Funnel-web Spiders, Australian Museum, Sydney. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  8. ^ a b c "Massive funnel-web's spider venom to be milked in Australia". BBC News. 25 January 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2016. 
  9. ^ a b c d Sydney Funnel-web Spider, Atrax robustus, Australian Museum, Sydney. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  10. ^ Isbister, Geoffrey K; Gray, Mike R (2004). "Bites by Australian mygalomorph spiders (Araneae, Mygalomorphae), including funnel-web spiders (Atracinae) and mouse spiders (Actinopodidae: Missulena spp)". Toxicon 43 (2): 133–40. doi:10.1016/j.toxicon.2003.11.009. PMID 15019472. 
  11. ^ a b c "Australian Spider and Insect Bites", University of Sydney. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  12. ^ a b c Isbister, GK; Gray, MR; Balit, CR; Raven, RJ; Stokes, BJ; Porges, K; Tankel, AS; Turner, E; White, J; Fisher, MM (2005). "Funnel-web spider bite: A systematic review of recorded clinical cases". The Medical journal of Australia 182 (8): 407–11. PMID 15850438. 
  13. ^ "Battling illness, Sutherland still works to save lives from stings and bites". ABC. 13 May 1999. Retrieved 23 October 2011. 
  14. ^ "Obituary: Struan Keith SutherlandAO MB BS MD DSc FRACP FRCPA". The Medical Journal of Australia. January 2002. Retrieved 4 September 2012. 
  15. ^ Fisher, M.M.; Raftos, J.; McGuinness, R.T.; Dicks, I.T.; Wong, J.S.; Burgess, K.R.; Sutherland, S.K. (1981). "Funnel-web spider (Atrax robustus) Antivenom. 2. Early Clinical Experience". The Medical Journal of Australia 2 (10): 525–26. PMID 7321948. 
  16. ^ "Anti-Venom Running Low For Deadliest Spider". Sky News. 2 September 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  17. ^ White 2013, p. 190.
  18. ^ Isbister, Geoffrey K; Fan, Hui Wen (2011). "Spider bite". The Lancet 378 (9808): 2039–47. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62230-1. PMID 21762981. 
  19. ^ White 2013, p. 182.
  20. ^ White 2013, p. 185.
  21. ^ White 2013, p. 200.

Cited texts[edit]

  • Sutherland, Struan K.; Tibballs, James (2001) [1983]. Australian Animal Toxins (2nd ed.). South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-550643-X. 
  • White, Julian (2013). A Clinician's Guide to Australian Venomous Bites and Stings: Incorporating the Updated Antivenom Handbook. Melbourne, Victoria: CSL Ltd. ISBN 978-0-646-57998-6. 

External links[edit]