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Sydney Funnel-web Spider

Scientific Name: Atrax robustus

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Sammy Michaels, Sydney

Did You Know?

Funnel-webs are extremely aggressive spiders and will have no hesitation in standing their ground and defending themselves. The front legs are raised high off the ground and the fangs are brought up and directed forward ready to strike. If further provoked the fangs will strike downwards with great speed and force. The only permanent technique to eradicate funnel-webs from a garden is to remove all the surrounding vegetation and allow direct sunlight to reach the burrow entries and dry out the soil. Killing existing spiders by fumigation or other chemical means will only provide a short-term solution as the area will soon be recolonized by other spiders.

A large, bulky spider, with females reaching over 35mm in body length and males around 25mm. The male also has more slender legs and a spur which is located on the third segment of the second leg. This tiny appendage is a lifesaver for the male as it holds the female's fangs during mating. The head region is characteristically glossy black, while the abdomen is dark brown or purplish in colour. The body and legs are covered with fine hairs.

Habitat:

The Sydney funnel-web prefers to make its home in sheltered, shady spots, which are always cool and humid. The natural habitat are rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests, however, the shaded areas of well-vegetated private gardens are also readily colonized. The silk-lined burrow is constructed beneath some type of object such as a rock or log and may reach 600mm in length. Most burrows have two entrances which are also lined with silk in a general funnel shape, with numerous thicker lines anchored to adjacent rocks, roots, etc. These threads may also act as trip-lines, which alert the spider when prey is near.

Diet:

The Sydney funnel-web spider's diet consists mostly of insects, although items as large as frogs and lizards may also be taken.

Reproduction:

Males reach sexual maturity at four years of age, females a year later. When the weather conditions are appropriate, i.e. after heavy rain when the ground is saturated and the air humid, the mature male starts wandering in search of a mate. Females spend almost their whole life in their burrows and await the arrival of a prospective suitor. The male then takes his life in his in his hands by attracting the female out of her burrow and pacifying her to allow him to mate rather than becoming her next meal! The female produces an egg-sack containing a hundred or so eggs and stores this in her burrow until the spiderlings hatch. Males usually die some 6-8 months after reaching maturity, while females may continue to breed for several more years.

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