Meet ‘Hercules,’ the Largest Male Funnel-Web Spider Ever Found

Despite belonging to the most venomous arachnid species on Earth, the spider will be using his bite for good in a program to produce antivenom

a large spider crawls on a baseball cap with the Australian Reptile Park logo
Hercules measures 7.9 centimeters from foot to foot, making him larger than a baseball. Caitlin Vine / Australian Reptile Park via Facebook

Arachnophobes may want to turn away: The largest-ever male specimen of a Sydney funnel-web spider—the world’s most venomous arachnid species—has been discovered on Australia’s Central Coast, about 50 miles north of Sydney.

Known for their large fangs and piercing bites, funnel web spiders typically range in size from one to five centimeters, with females often growing larger than males. The newest record-holder, aptly named “Hercules,” clocks in at a whopping 7.9 centimeters from foot to foot, taking the title away from “Colossus,” a male found in 2018 that measured seven centimeters long.

Recent humid, rainy weather has created a spike in funnel-web activity, most often in suburban gardens or forested areas, the Associated Press reports. Hercules was handed in to the Australian Reptile Park through a public donation drop-off, making him about the 100th funnel-web donated since November.

“When I first saw Hercules, I thought for sure he had to be a female, because he was so big,” Emma Teni, a spider keeper at the park, tells 9 News Australia. In a televised interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Teni held Hercules in a topless container. “Woah! He’s trying to get out there,” she said with a laugh, twisting the lid back on.

The largest funnel-web ever recorded, dubbed “Megaspider,” was a female measuring eight centimeters long. She was dropped off at the park in a Tupperware container in 2021.

“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,” wrote Corryn Wetzel for Smithsonian magazine in 2021. “Though not all funnel-web spiders are dangerous, many have impressive fangs and toxic, fast-acting venom.”

Of the close to 40 species of funnel-webs, only Hercules’ species, the Sydney funnel-web spider (Atrax robustus), has been linked to human fatalities. And while only between 10 and 15 percent of funnel-web bites are venomous, “all species should be considered potentially dangerous,” per a 2023 report, since venom affects victims rapidly. Envenoming often sets in within half an hour, and it can kill a small child in as little as 15 minutes or an adult in up to three days.

a spider appears large next to an Australian 50 cent coin
Hercules looks massive next to an Australian 50-cent coin. Caitlin Vine / Australian Reptile Park via Facebook

But now that he’s at the Australian Reptile Park, Hercules will be using his enormous size for good. Since 1981, the park has operated a successful Spider Venom Program, in which more than 2,000 spiders—ranging from babies to adults—are kept and milked on weekly schedules.

The milked venom is then injected—in very small but increasing doses—into rabbits, which produce antibodies against the toxin over time. Scientists with vaccine company Seqirus draw blood from the rabbits and spin it in a centrifuge to separate out the antibodies. Then, the antibodies are shipped to hospitals throughout Australia, where they can be administered to any humans who have become a little too well-acquainted with funnel-web fangs—typically, between 30 and 40 people are bitten annually, according to the Australian Museum.

It takes between 120 and 200 funnel-web milkings to produce a single vial of antivenom, Teni tells ABC News. Fortunately, since the program’s inception, no fatalities from funnel-web bites have occurred in Australia.

Due to Hercules’ size, he will be able to make a large contribution to the antivenom program. Because funnel-web spiders only have a lifespan of about one year, the park will be working quickly to ensure that Hercules makes an immediate and lasting impact.

“Hercules is absolutely huge, as is his venom yield,” Teni told USA Today’s Natalie Neysa Alund. “The person who contributed this spider is helping us save lives.”

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