Big Boy comes to the aid of patients bitten by funnel webs

Big Boy will help with the Australian Reptile Park’s venom milking program. Photo: SuppliedHis nickname is Big Boy and it’s not hard to see why.

Measuring 7.5 centimetre across, this whopping specimen is the largest male funnel web spider ever to have been dropped off at John Hunter Hospital as part of the Australian Reptile Park’s venom milking program.

Big Boy was found in Newcastle bushland recently with venom dripping from his sizeable fangs

His venom will be used to make antivenom that will help save the lives of those who have been bitten by the potentially deadly creatures.

Since 1981, the Australian Reptile Park’s antivenom program has been collecting funnel web venom, which is sent annually to CSL Bio, a biopharmaceutical company that creates antivenom.

Each year, the aim is to collect 300 male funnel webs to provide 3000 milkings, but in the past few years that number has been declining, with the park able to milk only about 200 funnel webs last year.

Reptile Park head curator Liz Vella said the park was always ready to receive spiders for milking.

“January and February are the peak times when male funnel web spiders are out trying to find females to mate [with] and, given that only males can be milked, we really encourage local communities to hand them in to the Australian Reptile Park or to participating hospital drop-off centres within this peak season,” Ms Vella said.

“Funnel web spiders only live for 12 months so we’re constantly needing to restock our males.

“They’re often found in sheltered, shady spots, which are always cool, humid and often damp.

“They are a feisty species of spider and can be expected to stand their ground and defend themselves. For that reason we encourage adults to educate children that, should they locate a spider of any kind, parental assistance be provided in the capture.”

The venom of a funnel web spider has a severe impact on the respiratory system. It attacks the muscles of the heart, which causes a spike in blood pressure, making the muscles spasm.

While the Australian Reptile Park will accept any spider brought in by the public, it aims to collect mainly males because their venom is six times more toxic than that of females.

The park has drop-off zones in Sydney, the Central Coast and Newcastle.

The centres are provided with a spider safety kit to house the spiders until Australian Reptile Park staff can come and pick them up each week.

The Australian Reptile Park website features an online safety and capture video to help with the collection and delivery of funnel web spiders.

The Newcastle Herald

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