Probably the most notorious of all spiders, Sydney Funnel-webs have a fearsome reputation. Most of this is deserved, but some is exaggerated.

Identification

Sydney Funnel-webs are shiny, dark brown to black spiders with finger-like spinnerets (silk-spinning organs) at the end of their abdomen. Males have a large mating spur projecting from the middle of their second pair of legs. If threatened, Sydney Funnel-webs show aggressive behaviour, rearing and displaying their impressive fangs.

The Sydney funnel-web is medium to large in size, with body length ranging from 1 to 5 cm (0.4 to 2 in). Both sexes are glossy and darkly colored, ranging from blue-black, to black, to brown or dark-plum colored. The carapace covering the cephalothorax is almost hairless and appears smooth and glossy. Another characteristic are finger-like spinnerets at the end of their abdomen.The  shorter-lived male is smaller than the female but longer legged. The average leg length for the spider in general is six to seven centimeters. 

 

Female Sydney funnel-web spider in a warning posture

Female Sydney funnel-web spider in a warning posture

 

Distribution and habitat

Distribution is centred on Sydney, extending north to the Central Coast and south to the Illawarra region, and west to the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.

The spider can be found in moist microhabitats, including under logs and foliage.

Sydney funnel-web spiders are mostly terrestrial spiders, favouring habitats with moist sand and clays.

 

Feeding and diet

Funnel-webs burrow in sheltered sites under logs and rocks where they can find a cool and humid climate. Funnel-webs rush out of their burrow when potential prey, such as beetles, cockroaches, small lizards or snails, walk across silken trip-lines that the spider has placed around the outside of its burrow. They then return to their burrow to eat their meal.

Other behaviours and adaptations

Male Sydney Funnel-web spiders have a habit of wandering into backyards and falling into suburban swimming pools, where they can survive many hours. They also sometimes enter and become trapped in houses. Again, it is true that Sydney Funnel-webs have one of the most toxic venoms (to humans) of any spider. However, it is not true that all funnel-web bites are life-threatening. The venom of juvenile and female Sydney Funnel-web Spiders is much less toxic. Nor do they jump onto, or chase people, or live in houses – these are all urban myths.

Dry daytime surface conditions will dehydrate funnel-web spiders and also expose them to birds and lizards. This is why males that have spent the night in search of a female have to seek cover at dawn. This can be any suitable hideaway that is dark, moist and cool, like a cavity under a rock, or even in a shoe left outdoors.

A number of other spiders are often mistaken as funnel-webs, including mouse spiders, trapdoor spiders and even Black House Spiders.

Breeding behaviours

Males leave their burrows and wander over summer and autumn to find females and mate.

Danger to humans

Funnel-web bites are dangerous and first aid should be given immediately using the pressure bandage/immobilisation technique (as for snake bite) and the victim taken to hospital and given antivenom if necessary. The venom has a neurotoxin component that attacks the human nervous system and, in the worst cases, can result in death. However, there have been no fatalities since the introduction of antivenom.