As It Happens

Australian zookeeper asks people to catch this deadly spider for him

Tim Faulkner of the Australian Reptile Park works on creating antivenoms. But he can't do it alone, so he's asking the public to catch some spiders and bring them to him.
Tim Faulkner / Funnel Web Spider (Tim Faulkner / Australian Reptile Park)

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If you see a big, deadly spider, catch it and bring it to us.

That's what the Australian Reptile Park near Sydney, Australia is asking of the public.

The zoo has put out the plea to adults — no previous spider-catching expertise necessary — to catch deadly funnel-web spiders. Their objective is to make more badly-needed antivenom.

The funnel-web spider has a very strong venom. It's very painful, but it also has a very strong neurotoxin. So people do die, have died.- Tim Faulkner

Tim Faulkner is the general manager at Australia Reptile Park. He spoke to As It Happens host Helen Mann about the spiders.

TIM FAULKNER: They're a pretty classical, cliche-looking dangerous spider. They're deep rich black. They've got fur all over their bodies. They're quite heavy-set. And they look, if you like, rather scary.

HELEN MANN: How big are they?

TF: They're not a massive spider. So they're not like the size of a tarantula. But I guess you could say that one could just comfortably fit in the palm of your hand.

A Sydney Funnel-Web spider (Australian Reptile Park)

HM: But maybe not so comfortably for me. 

TF: Nor me! But with one's imagination, you could sit it in the palm of your hand.

You just flick it into a jar really gently with a ruler or a wooden spoon. It's actually safer than trying to squish it.- Tim Faulkner

HM: Now tell us why you want these spiders?

TF: The funnel-web spider has a very strong venom. It's very painful, but it also has a very strong neurotoxin. So people do die, have died. Seventy-six minutes was the quickest bite-to-death. So, in 1981, the Reptile Park engaged with something called the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and began to make antivenom . . . To catch the spider . . . you just flick it into a jar really gently with a ruler or a wooden spoon. It's actually safer than trying to squish it with a shoe . . . Ironically, you're safer trying to catch the spider than you are trying to kill it.

HM: But you're talking about one of the world's most dangerous spiders. If you flick it with that spoon and it lands somewhere you don't expect, couldn't something go seriously wrong?

You know, crossing a set of lights in a major city after a few beers is far more dangerous than our wildlife.- Tim Faulkner

TF: We have do this for the past 35 years and nothing has gone wrong. It's a reasonably sound process. Not to say it's not dangerous. We wouldn't suggest that kids be out there doing it. However, they're heavy-set and thick-bodied. They don't jump, they don't run. So when you use your wooden spoon to flick it into the container, you don't put your other hand anywhere near it.

Tim Faulkner and an Orb-Weaver spider (Tim Faulkner)

HM: Have you yourself milked one of these spiders?

TF: Yes, all the time . . . I've milked them for the past twelve years.

HM: Have you ever been bitten?

TF: I certainly have not. Now I've also milked Australia's most venomous snakes for the last twenty years and I haven't been bitten. I've had many a close call. But, you know, I've also never had a serious car crash.

Tim Faulkner, general manager of the Australian Reptile Park (Tim Faulkner)

HM: Thank you for reminding us yet again that Australia is a whole different world.

TF: It is, it is . . . But you know, crossing a set of lights in a major city after a few beers is far more dangerous than our wildlife. 

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Tim Faulkner.

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