Weber, California (Reuters) – An estimated 100 million funnel-web spiders have returned to their burrows in recent years, after years in hibernation, thanks to a resurgence of interest in the natural enemy.
They are still found in a handful of countries, but are now in Australia, South Africa, South America, China and New Zealand, said Chris Hogg, an ecologist at the University of Tasmania.
“They are being caught by people and other wildlife because of the increased availability of food and the ability to live in a more natural habitat,” he said.
“And of course, there are some people who are attracted to them because of their resemblance to the spiders, their appearance and their funnel shape.”
He said funnel scents have become more common, but that the spiders had not been seen since the 1960s.
Funnel scented candles are being produced for sale at flea markets in Australia and New England, but in South Africa the only species of funnel that is commercially available is a small black spider called the South African Funnelweb Spider.
The spider, which is about the size of a dime and weighs about a gram, is a relatively common sight in South America.
But there is a growing demand for them in China, which has the world’s largest population of the species.
“I think that’s why there’s been a huge resurgence in the last 10 years,” Hogg said.
It is estimated that more than 10 million funnels exist in the world, although it is difficult to determine how many are in the wild, as there are no data on the numbers in the United States.
But Hogg believes it could be up to 100 million.
“The funnel spider population is growing exponentially, and it’s not really being caught,” he told Reuters.
“It’s just that there are people who want to take them.”
There’s a big demand for these species in the Western world and in Australia it’s pretty hard to find them.
“There is no official count of the spiders in Australia but it is believed to be about 100 million, with up to 60 million being captured each year in Australia.
Australia has been home to about a million funnell spiders since 1846, but there are currently no captive populations in the country.
Funnels are used to store food in the arachnids’ bodies.
In order to survive, the spiders use their funnels to pull food from the soil and then deposit it in the holes they make in the ground, where it becomes food for the other spiders, Hogg added.”
That’s how the spiders keep the food, so if you’re not careful they can cause the food to go to waste,” he added.
The spiders also eat plants that they have captured, such as acorns and berries.”
In South America there are quite a few species of fungi that they eat, but the ones that they consume are usually fruits and vegetables,” he explained.
The Australian FunnelWeb spider is not native to South America and is a hybrid between a European and a Asian species, Hagg said.
(Reporting by Karen McCarthy; Editing by Louise Ireland)