It’s been quite some time since I tortured myself by blogging about a spider. So now it’s time to jump right back in with a particularly terrifying one: the Sydney funnel-web spider. Ever since I was a child these spiders literally gave me nightmares – I remember one particularly nasty dream where I kept tripping in the spiders’ burrows.

There are thirty-five species of funnel-web spider, but the Sydney funnel-web is particularly deadly. As its name implies, the Sydney funnel-web lives in and around the city of Sydney, Australia. Funnel-web spiders live in burrows, usually in soil with high humidity and low temperatures. I’m used to looking for spiders in trees and doorways, but something about them also being on the ground gives me the creeps.

These spiders are not just tiny critters that you can ignore — they have body lengths of one to five centimetres, with leg lengths of six to seven centimetres. Any spider is too big, but one that’s 12 cm in diameter is definitely right out. Sydney funnel-webs are usually black or dark brown, and have a somewhat glossy appearance.

Funnel-web burrows are creepy, web-lined things. The spiders deposit webs on the ground radiating from the burrows’ mouths, and it is these silken strands that help funnel-web spiders catch their prey. Insects and other small creatures have a difficult time moving on the spiders’ slippery webs, but the funnel-webs have no trouble at all. So the spiders rush out and bite the hapless victims, injecting their venom into their prey.

Sydney funnel-web spiders have very powerful venom, but it doesn’t affect all animals equally. Unfortunately the venom is particularly effective against primates, including people. Though the venom can be deadly, there have been no recorded human deaths from the bite of a funnel-web spider since the development of an antivenin.

A funnel-web spider warning away a predator. If you see this posture, STAY AWAY! Just look at those fangs… Image by Tirin at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sydney funnel-webs are so dangerous to people because, unlike many other venomous animals, funnel-web spiders are very aggressive and will readily attack. Males wander away from their burrows to search for females to mate with, and so often run into unsuspecting people on the way. Male spiders also have more potent venom than females, so watch out for them if you’re in Sydney.

I am scared of spiders because they have way too many legs and way too many eyes, not because some species have the potential to kill me. Still, there’s an extra element of terror when spiders are highly aggressive, nasty killers. So stay away from any burrows you see in Australia.