Warning as humidity puts heat on funnel webs

Recent rain and subsequent high humidity in the Illawarra have combined to create ideal conditions for funnel-web spiders, prompting Gerringong arachnologist Graham Wishart to issue a warning to avoid "love-sick funnel-web spiders".

Mr Wishart, a retired pharmacist and research associate of the Australian Museum's arachnology department, said funnel-web mating season was between November and April.

He said mating primarily occurred at night, to avoid predators and the heat, however humidity levels were now high enough for the male spiders to take their chances more readily.

Mr Wishart said optimum weather conditions were three or four days after rain when the ground was still damp, but not damp enough to impede the progress of the male spider.

SCAT Paramedic Jason Watson, Rescue Paramedic Gavin Richardson and Graham Wishart.

"Usually, bites only occur during the day if the spider is disturbed from their hiding place," Mr Wishart said.

"Because the humidity is quite high, it means they don't dry out so rapidly and they're in fine form to wander around aimlessly, looking for burrows and females.

Mr Wishart, who once operated the Gerringong pharmacy, became the local "go-to man" for anyone looking to drop off funnel-webs, or have a species of spiders identified.

His interest in spiders began when his father-in-law was babysitting his kids and captured a spider walking across the floor.

"I wasn't into spiders in those days so I sent it to the Australian Museum who had always been helpful with my inquiries about natural history," Mr Wishart said.

"This spider was so interesting to the arachnologist at the museum that he came racing down to Gerringong the very next day wanting to know where I got it.

"He was doing a PhD thesis on funnel-webs and this spider would help him on his way."

Mr Wishart collected 100 specimens at his former Willow Vale home, which were subsequently identified as a new Illawarra species of funnel-web that was eventually named in his honour. It is one of about 40 known species of funnel web.

"We really didn't know how lethal this spider was," Mr Wishart said.

"We had the venom analysed and formula-wise it was very similar to the Sydney funnel-web, although it is not as large, so it could be extremely dangerous to a small child.

"When I'm dead and gone, this Wishart's funnel-web will be wandering around the Illawarra, keeping my memory alive."

Mr Wishart has contributed a number of research papers to the museum and conducted a 10-year study of spider populations in Gerringong.

NSW Ambulance paramedic Jason Watson said funnel-web bites were traditionally most common in January, when people were out and about, enjoying the summer holiday weather.

This was especially the case on the South Coast which was a popular holiday destination, with plenty of bushland, he said.

Fellow paramedic Gavin Richardson also urged people to be cautious while rummaging around the yard.

Mr Wishart advised people to think twice about using pesticides.

"Avoid using chemicals to destroy funnel-webs as it usually agitates them into leaving their burrows."

NSW Ambulance said in the event of a snake or spider bite, call triple-0 and ask for an ambulance.

Funnel web spiders found in Thirroul in 2012.


For snakes and funnel web spiders:

• If the bite is on a limb, apply a pressure immobilisation bandage. The bandage should not cut off the circulation.

• If the bite is not on a limb, apply direct, firm pressure to the bite site with your hands. Keep the patient still and discourage them from walking around. 

• Never cut or excise the wound and do not attempt to suck the venom out, and do not apply a tourniquet.

• Seek medical help.

For spiders (eg redbacks, white-tails, trapdoors):

• Apply an ice pack or cold compress to relieve the pain.

• If severe symptoms develop, seek medical aid.

Source: Ambulance Service of NSW

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