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.
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…
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.
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.