It can take up to 140 milkings to create a single $1000 vial of anti-venom to treat a funnel web bite, and it’s a “one per cent chance” to find the right kind of spider for it hunting in the bush.
The panel beater responds to calls from members of the public and goes out to homes to collect the black, sparsely-haired and glossy spiders before handing them over to the Australian Reptile Park’s anti-venom program.
His crusade is complicated further as only males produce a toxic and unique component in their venom that makes it deadly, meaning females can’t help produce anti-venom (they do help for breeding programs though).
And they need to be mature. This takes about four or five years to happen, and they will only live for about a year, leaving a small window to catch and milk them.
“The chances of getting a male funnel web out in the bush is one per cent if you’re digging for them,” Johnson told 9news.com.au.
The antidote saved a 10-year-old NSW who was bitten on the finger back in 2017 but he needed a record-breaking 12 vials.
Johnson, who has been catching spiders since a young age, doesn’t want people to fear the arachnids, but have a healthy respect for them.
Particularly after a close call when he was taking a photograph, that nearly ended up with him getting a dose of the highly toxic and fast-acting venom.
“It was me being a bit too complacent,” he said.
“The funnel web was in a fish tank and I had my phone within an inch. I was trying to get detailed photos.
“It was up on its back legs all ready to strike.
“I felt the fangs skim down my thumbnail.”
His adrenaline went “through the roof” and he had to sit back and gather himself.
This was his reminder to “never get complacent”.
And the humidity is likely to send them scurrying for sheltered areas, such as houses and gardens.
This is where Johnson finds many of his catches of which he’s made more than 1000 in total.
And while one spider is great, there’s another “jackpot” that could be lurking on your property with the potential to save more lives.
The spider’s egg sac. He recently collected one from Stanwell Tops near Wollongong.
“If you ever find a funnel web spider egg sac, please don’t squash it as these are rare to find and are in very high demand,” he said.
Johnson doesn’t take a fee when he’s contacted to head out on a hunt through his Facebook page the Funnel Web Hunter.
It’s a selfless act, aside from the obvious factor that he’s been fascinated by these creatures his whole life.
“This is something I do to contribute,” he said.
What should I do if I find a funnel web spider in my house?
If you find a funnel-web spider in your home, you’ve got a couple of options.
The first is to steer clear, keep an eye on the spider and contact an expert, like Johnson, to remove it.
If you’re a “responsible adult”, you can put on some protective gear and try to trap it.
The NSW Department of Planning and Environment recommends donning “gardening gloves and long trousers tucked into socks with sturdy shoes or boots”.
- Find a glass jar with a wide mouth
- Remove the lid and pierce it with air holes
- Invert the jar over the spider but take care as funnel webs are highly defensive and may strike (they cannot jump or climb glass)
- When the spider is in the jar, slide a piece of heavy cardboard or solid plastic under the opening to completely cover it
- Invert the jar, keeping the top covered
- Check the spider is in the bottom, carefully drop a moist cotton bud into the jar with the spider, then put on the lid
- Keep it away from direct sun and heat
Johnson also recommends preventative measures such as installing door wind stoppers and keeping all loose clothing off the ground.
There are several drop-off points for the venom collection program in Sydney, Newcastle or on the Central Coast.
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What should I do if I am bitten by a funnel-web spider?
If you get bitten, stay as calm as you can.
Apply pressure and an immobilisation bandage if possible and get to a hospital as quickly as possible.