This Australian Zoo Is Milking Its Giant Funnel Web Spider to Make Lifesaving Antivenom

The Australian Reptile Park says the arachnid—nicknamed ‘Megaspider’—is the largest individual of this species they’ve ever seen

A man holding a plastic cup with a large, dark spider inside
Spider keeper Jake Meney holding the "megaspider" that was donated to the Australian Reptile Park. Australian Reptile Park

An Australian zoo recently acquired what they say is the largest funnel web spider they've ever seen. The spider was anonymously donated to the Australian Reptile Park as part of a weekly collection from spider drop-off points near Sydney. Shocked by the arachnid’s unusual size, keepers promptly named the female spider "Megaspider."

“In my 30+ years at the Park, I have never seen a funnel web spider this big!" says Michael Tate, education officer at the Australian Reptile Park, in a statement.

The "megaspider" measures just over three inches long leg-to-leg, packs powerful venom, and has curved fangs strong enough to pierce a human fingernail, reports Mindy Weisberger for Live Science. A typical funnel web spider is about one-and-a-half to two inches long, which makes this individual a particularly large specimen. They have dark, shiny, almost hairless bodies and eight eyes. The spiders earn their name from the funnel-shaped silk tunnels they build at the entrance to their burrows, which ensnares passing insects and other prey.

Of the at least 40 species of funnel web spider, the most notorious member of the genus is the Sydney funnel web spider, which is responsible for all of Australia’s funnel web spider–associated deaths. Though not all funnel web spiders are dangerous, many have impressive fangs and toxic, fast-acting venom. A bite from certain species is toxic enough to kill a person within 15 minutes.

The Australian Reptile Park says the spider’s fangs will be milked for venom as part of the zoo’s ongoing antivenom program. The zoo is the county’s only source of raw funnel web spider venom, which is a necessary ingredient for creating the serum that neutralizes the venom's toxins in humans, reports CNN’s Rhea Mogul. Keepers milk spiders’ fangs weekly and send the venom to a pharmaceutical company in Melbourne, where it's made into antivenom. Since the reptile park started its program in the 1950s, officials say its antivenom is estimated to have saved roughly 25,000 Australians lives, and hundreds more each year.

"Having [a] megaspider handed into the venom program is so amazing,” says Tate. "She is unusually large and if we can get the public to hand in more spiders like her, it will only result in more lives being saved due to the huge amount of venom they can produce.”

The female spider was been dropped off in a Tupperware container with no clues to where she was from or who found her. The zoo is hoping to find the anonymous donor of the "megaspider," according to NPR’s Joe Hernandez, as it could lead scientists to an area with more unusually large arachnids.

"We are really keen to find out where she came from in hopes to find more massive spiders like her,” says Tate.