Once a year, officials from the Australian Reptile Park turn to the public to help them catch the funnel-web spider. The spider, which lives in gardens and trees in Australia, is known for being extremely deadly.
Since 1981, citizens have managed to capture thousands of the spiders and take them to the Reptile Park. At the park, officials use the spiders to produce an antidote to prevent casualties from spider bites.
The program saved the lives of 65 people who were bitten by the funnel-web spider last year. The spider is mostly found in eastern Australia, and it is somewhat common in the city of Sydney.
However, the call to the public for help this year is more urgent than usual. Officials from the park say that they need 200 male spiders on an annual basis in order to produce enough antidote. However, they only received 100 spiders last year.
Spider expert Stacey Denovan said, “We do not have a shortage of the antidote yet. But if we continue to get these numbers every year, then we will have a problem and potentially a shortage.”
Making matters worse is the fact that the spider antidote only has a shelf life of 18 months. Plus, it can take up to two years to make the antidote.
The antidote is created by taking venom from the collected spiders and then injecting it into rabbits, which can tolerate the venom better than humans. Once the rabbits build up antibodies in their blood, their blood is extracted to produce a serum which serves as the antidote.
Before the program started, there have been 13 recorded deaths in Australia resulting from funnel-web spider bites. Since the inception of the program, there have been zero deaths.
Park officials say that they are asking the public to catch the spiders because they do not receive enough funding from the government to do it themselves. They also say that catching the spiders is more efficient than breeding them.
Denovan believes that it is safe to have members of the public collecting extremely deadly spiders.
“We tell the public that their efforts in catching spiders go towards saving lives. As long as they are cautious, it shouldn't be dangerous. The spider can't jump or climb, nor move that fast,” she said.
As long as their death count remains at zero, it’s likely that everyday citizens will play the biggest role in collecting the valuable, yet dangerous, spiders.