Wanted: deadly creatures that must be taken alive

PLEASE don't go turning over rocks looking for funnel web spiders, especially if you are young and male, after reading this article.

But if you happen to find one, the Australian Reptile Park is desperate to have it, alive. It is facing a shortage of funnel web spiders, which are milked for the venom used to create anti-venom.

About 300 people are bitten by funnel webs every year, and about 60 of those ''are life and death situations'', said the park's educator, Michael Tate.

The park has only 30 male spiders to milk. It prefers to have more than 300 because it takes about 70 milkings to create a single dose of anti-venom. At the present rate, the park (the sole collector of funnel web venom) needs nearly three weeks to produce enough venom for one dose.

While the park, on the central coast, will accept donations of any live funnel web spiders, only the males are milked because they are six times more venomous than the female spider. ''We'd like to have a few hundred in stock,'' says the park's spider keeper, Julie Mendezona. ''Even though everyone sees them as ferocious creatures, we could milk the same one every single day. But that's not fair to the animal. So to lower the stress level, we milk each spider once a week.'' That's humane treatment for the world's deadliest spider.

After a quiet summer, funnel webs were everywhere in the moist conditions in late March and April. It may be winter, but the mild, wet conditions mean they're still around, Mendezona says. Trouble is, if people are spotting them, they are not catching them.

Stocks of funnel web anti-venom have fallen to three years' worth, compared with the preferred level of six years. ''You can never really estimate accurately how much anti-venom you'll need in future,'' says Tate, who adds that storing anti-venom is difficult.

If you see a funnel web spider, and want to donate it to the park's milking program, Tate says you should avoid asking men or boys to catch it. They are statistically more likely to get bitten or to jump on it and kill it. He recommends calling a mature woman, who is the least likely to get bitten, and ask her to bring an empty jar and follow the instructions in the video.

Avoid using takeaway containers because funnel webs can bite through them. A deep glass jar or a Tupperware container is perfect. There's no need to excessively tape the top because funnel webs cannot jump. One was called Alcatraz because it was delivered in a container wrapped 15 centimetres deep in masking tape. Spiders can be brought to any public hospital.

The story Wanted: deadly creatures that must be taken alive first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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