Bitten by a Funnel Web Spider, Sydney, Australia

Before we get started on this post, if you or someone with you has just been bitten by a funnel web spider, seek immediate medical attention. Also…

First aid treatment for a suspected funnel-web spider bite consists of immediately applying a pressure immobilisation bandage; a technique which consists of wrapping the bitten limb with a crepe bandage, as well as applying a splint to limit movement of the limb. For more – Wikipedia

Bitten by a funnel web

I’ve written about the funnel web spider a couple of times before, first in my post called Spiders – There’s Good News and There’s Bad News and then later in my cheerfully titled post The Funnel Web Spider of Australia and Death.

Fortunately though, death by this spider’s bite is extremely rare here in Australia.

Atrax Robustus

Source: Sputniktilt

A parent’s nightmare

This would be any parent’s nightmare and yesterday that nightmare was a reality for a family in Sydney. A six-year-old girl who was playing in her home in Sydney’s northern beaches mistook a deadly funnel web spider as a toy and picked it up.

As she was bitten on her finger she let out an almighty scream. The funnel web spider’s bite is extremely painful; their fangs are capable of going right through a fingernail. Their venom is also very acidic adding to the pain.

Her mum took her straight to the doctor where she was advised to return home but to keep an eye on her daughter. That’s what they did, but it wasn’t long before the little girl began vomiting and got cloudy vision which eventually led to no vision at all.

She was rushed to hospital by her mother as dad quickly made his way back home from work.

The poor little girl was sweating so much her clothes were soaked and she was shaking and convulsing, but that was all quickly brought under control after the first and then eventually three shots of antivenene.

As you will know from having read the above-mentioned posts, the funnel web spider is only found in Australia and even then only in certain areas. Those of you not living in those areas are almost certainly thinking…

“Thank the Lord that can’t happen here.”

But then an article started surfacing recently about an apparent funnel-web spider found somewhere in Gloucestershire. It was reported by the BBC as well as many UK newspapers.

Funnel web spiders in England?

Can it be true?

Before you all decide to move to Norway, let’s take a closer look at that.

I have searched and searched the Internet, seems to me that almost all references to funnel web spiders in the UK lead to various articles all of which reference Les Fryer who found this spider in his back garden in Gloucestershire…

spider

Source: Daily Mail

You can read more about that if you click the above link, but the spider was never captured as far as I can see, just videoed and the video has since been removed. The picture doesn’t convince me it’s a funnel web spider. Indeed, towards the end of the article, spider expert Mark Bushell suggests it could be a tube spider, common across Europe and similar in appearance to the funnel web.

This is a tube spider found in Jersey, a small island between the UK and France…

I found plenty of references to ‘funnel weavers’, but these are not venomous. It also seems there are at least 40 species of funnel web spider here in Australia, worldwide there could be as many as 700 different species.

As far as I could make out, it’s only funnel web spiders that are found here in Australia that are capable of killing a human, but even then not all of our Australian funnel webs can kill. It’s really only the Sydney funnel web and a handful of funnel webs closely related to it that can be so dangerous.

Indeed, two hours after returning home the girls father had killed and captured the spider and taken it to the hospital so that doctors knew exactly what they were dealing with.

Turns out this particular spider wasn’t a typical Sydney funnel web, the doctors described it as an “uncommon” funnel web.

Luckily the little girl in Sydney has made a full recovery so we can continue to state that no deaths have been recorded here in Australia since the introduction of antivenene in 1981.

Long may that statistic continue.

Funnel web spider bites

Funnel web spider bites are very rare. I read somewhere that it could be just a couple of bites a year on average. I found an interesting medical study that appears to back this up, it referenced 198 possible funnel web spider bites since 1926.

The study contains some fascinating information, you can read it here, it’s called Funnel-web spider bite: a systematic review of recorded clinical cases.

Conclusion:

I’m sure many people will be quick to blame the doctor for sending them home, but at that point I’m pretty sure it wasn’t known to have been a funnel web spider. The reality is that for the vast majority of spider bites there is no reaction and no medical intervention is required.

My doctor gave me the same advice when I was bitten by a redback spider.

Maybe more allowance should have been made of the fact this was a six-year-old child, but it’s interesting to note that even though this little girl was sent away, there was still enough time to successfully treat her AFTER her symptoms had surfaced.

Yes, the Sydney funnel web spider may well be one of the most dangerous spiders in the world, but we do have antivenom.

And, for the most part, we can thank bioCSL for that.

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Jerry Bear July 7, 2015, 9:51 am | Link

    I personally think the most dangerous spider in the world is the Six Eyed Sand Spider. The best known species lives in South Africa (Sicarius hahni). It lives in remote desert areas and buries itself in the sand and is generally shy and inoffensive. Human contact is rare and only 2 known bites (strongly suspected rather than confirmed) are known, But one resulted in the loss of an arm due to extreme necrosis and the other terminated fatally in massive hemorhaging due to disseminated intravascular cooagulation. The venom of this spider is similar to the related recluse spiders but a lot stronger and there is a lot more of it as the spider is considerably larger, The superpotent cytotoxic vemon of this spider places it in a class by itself. Normally this spider would not be a problem bit people are starting to keep them as pets which I think is a bad idea!

    • BobinOz July 7, 2015, 8:04 pm | Link

      Hi Jerry

      Well this six eyed thing sounds like a particularly nasty piece of work, I have made a note to self, don’t go to any South African remote desert areas 🙂

      It’s fortunate human contact with this critter is rare, long may that continue.

      Cheers, Bob

  • Ricky June 2, 2014, 9:54 pm | Link

    Moving from Amsterdam, my hometown, to Sydney was the most exciting experience in my life so far. It was a bit disappointing though that I only found out about Funnel webs and red backs living in gardens on the Northern Beaches after we moved there! Guess my Ozzie husband didn’t want me to know in case I decided I didn’t want to move to Sydney after all… Anyway …. Spent many nights awake worrying about our kids getting bitten, bought gumboots to hang out the washing, went to the beautiful beaches every day (while desperately trying not think about…. spiders). Spotted a shark which did’t scare me… It’s just the creepy creatures I can’t deal with. Yes, I know, we will all die one day, I am familiar with that fact, but please let it not be due to a redfunnelbackweb. Anyway: I read your article last night and a slight bit of relief has finally arrived. You are still alive! After a bite! So is the poor funnel web girl….Thank you for sharing. If you don’t mind though, I ‘ll hang on to the gum boots just a bit longer… Greetings Ricky

    • BobinOz June 3, 2014, 4:29 pm | Link

      Ha ha, what a forgetful husband, fancy not mentioning the spiders 🙂

      Yes, it’s true though, people do survive these bites these days, even old fellas like me and young girls like the one in this article.

      I’m not sure about the redfunnelbackweb, that sounds like one mean spider, nobody’s been bitten by one of those yet so we simply don’t know what might happen.

      Don’t forget to check inside those gumboots…. mwhahaha!

      Greetings back at you, Bob

  • Valter Russo May 18, 2014, 8:29 pm | Link

    Hi Bob,
    so everything went well, but was the kid administered with the antivenom?
    if someone is bitten by a funnel web spider, and doesn´t get the antivenom, that person is dead for sure? or it might be or not?
    even if we take the antivenom, the symptoms appear anyway but its not deadly stuff?

    chears
    Valter Russo

    • BobinOz May 19, 2014, 2:41 pm | Link

      Not everybody who is bitten by this spider will die, sometimes they simply don’t envenomate and sometimes when they do it’s not enough to kill. Luckily we do have the antivenom though, so no need to gamble on that one and it also says a lot of pain.

      Cheers, Bob

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