It’s been rough for people and wildlife alike in parts of Australia recently, with torrential rainfall and significant flooding washing out most of New South Wales. Among the normal flood risk factors sit some tests unique to Australia, from crocodiles taking float in flooded zoos to the news that a plague of the world’s most venomous spiders could soon descend upon Sydney (and this isn't even the first time).
The apocalyptic-sounding warning comes from the Australian Reptile Park, who on Wednesday announced that the perfect storm was brewing for a mass migration of Sydney funnel-web spiders. These creepy crawlies might not be as popular with the wider public as the country’s afflicted koalas last year, but they too are simply fighting to survive.
Unfortunately for residents, the rising waters could see Sydney funnel-webs seeking refuge in their homes. A tough plight for even the pro-arachnid clan considering they would arrive having abandoned all but one of their possessions: a venom more dangerous to humans and primates than any other mammal.
The venom is so effective because, according to a recent study, it contains the venom peptides delta-hexatoxins that stand a chance of popping the clogs of even grown adults. This group of toxins cause fatal neurotoxic events in humans as it essentially suspends their nerves in an active state, firing over and over again. The resulting symptoms include profuse salivating, sweating, and muscle spasms followed by a spike in blood pressure and heart rate that when combined with respiratory distress can prove fatal. You might not think it, considering one of the researchers on the paper collected the deadly arachnids in a dressing gown and slippers (suitably Australian hat included), casually scooping them out of a pool as if they hadn’t evolved to become dangerous to specifically us.
Both male and female funnel-webs make venom, but it’s the males that are the most dangerous. The study established that this was likely due to the fact that when it’s time to mate the males march considerable distances in search of a female, and after making that treacherous journey over a long enough period of time adapted in a way that turned their attacking insect venom into a defensive vertebrate venom, and lucky us became a prime target.
The "urgent warning" rained on the parade of the region’s first glimpses of better weather, as experts warned that warm weather and high humidity was actually the perfect recipe for a funnel-web festival. "With the incredible flooding that we've experienced across the Greater Sydney area, they have been forced out of their habitat and are seeking refuge in dryer areas," park director Tim Faulkner said in a statement sent to IFLScience. "Unfortunately, this could mean that they'll be finding their way into residential homes very shortly."
Arachnophobes will no doubt have great sympathy for those in the funnel-webs' path, but the reptile park has said that those who feel comfortable doing so (and have a means of doing it safely) can catch the eight-legged fugitives and deliver them to the park. There are only 13 recorded deaths from Sydney funnel-webs and since an antivenom program was launched in 1980 there have been none. Just in case, the park says that anyone bitten by a funnel-web spider should remain calm, wrap the affected area in a bandage, and get to a hospital as soon as possible.