Happiness was at its highest last week in the Reptile Park in Somersby, Australia after nearly a hundred funnel web spiders hatched. These small creatures with a truly terrible bite are a real gold mine since they provide the material necessary to produce an anti-venom which is used to save numerous lives every year.
When a resident of Matcham on the central coast of New South Wales discovered the small egg sack containing dozens of baby funnel web spiders (Atrax robustus) in his garden, he was faced with two options: set it on fire and run away or take them to the Reptile Park in Somersby. Lucking for the park, he chose the second option.
A precious venom
Although many bites of the Atrax robustus spider, one of the most dangerous spiders in the world, are reported each year, no deaths have been registered since 1980, when the particularly effective antivenom was introduced. The venom of the Atrax Robustus is very precious because it has the ability to treat bites of many different species of funnel web spiders.
Whilst it is true that the bite won’t kill you, it can cause the following symptoms all the same: tingling sensations around the mouth and the tongue, goose bumps, salivating, watery eyes, vomiting, nausea, muscular spasms, liquid in the lungs and high blood pressure. This is why the antivenom injection is undeniably useful, even for bites that aren’t fatal.
Experts at wild life centres are responsible for removing the spider’s venom which is then sent to a laboratory in order to produce the precious antivenom. Surprisingly, most non-primate mammals are much more resistant to the venom’s effects than us and can survive a dose that is 100 times greater thanthe dose that is normally lethal for a human.
In the lab, it is then injected into rabbits. They don’t experience the same effects that we do, but their immune system nevertheless develops the antibodies needed to protect their body. Their plasma is then taken and turned into an antidote. This antidote is then injected into the patient which locates the venom in the body and neutralises it.
Last year, because of a lack of spiders, the park was experiencing problems and launched an appeal to citizens, encouraging them to capture these spiders themselves and bring them to collection points. Due to the fact that their venom is particularly dangerous, the park had to be careful and published a list of warnings to follow, reminding people that only adults should collect the spiders. The birth of these babies is therefore excellent news!