The seven dangers hiding in this innocuous Sydney backyard photo

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

A disturbing find in a Sydney backyard has prompted a warning to parents over the dangers of venomous spiders.

A mother on the Northern Beaches discovered a series of small holes dotted across her lawn last weekend and while thinking nothing of it at the time, to her horror, she later dug up a funnel web spider in the process of creating a fire pit.

Curtin University Research Associate and spider expert Dr Leanda Mason told Yahoo News Australia the holes were certainly a spider burrow and each one were most likely either created by a funnel web, a trapdoor spider or a wolf spider.

Seven spider holes found in the backyard on the Northern Beaches. Source: Supplied
A close up of one of the holes. Source: Supplied

And while it is unclear if the holes dotted across the woman’s garden are those of the highly venomous spider or other arachnid species, paediatrician and founder of child safety group CPR Kids Sarah Hunstead said it was vital parents were aware of the dangers present in backyards.

“Regardless of what’s inside the hole, it’s more about knowing about the possible dangers and saying ‘lets know what to do just in case’,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

Ms Hunstead said the concerned mother, who is an educator for CPR Kids, wanted to share the images to ensure other parents were aware of the potential threats lurking in gardens, especially as her children regularly play in her backyard.

According to the Australian Reptile Park, there are over 30 species of funnel web spiders, with the most well known and most venomous, the Sydney funnel web spider, found in a 160km radius of Sydney.

The funnel web spider found in the Northern Beaches backyard. Source: Supplied/ CPR Kids

The spider can cause death in as little as 15 minutes, however there hasn’t been a recorded death from a funnel web bite since 1981 – partially thanks to the Australian Reptile Park’s role in creating anti-venom through the painstaking process of milking the spider’s venom.

Symptoms of a funnel web spider bite

Ms Hunstead said if children are bitten by a funnel web spider, the key is for them to avoid hysteria.

“The key is to stay calm – do not wash, cut the bite site or try to suck out the venom... those are old wives tales,” she said.

“Apply a pressure bandage and call an ambulance and be prepared to commence CPR if needed.”

While symptoms may differ, Ms Hunstead said common signs of a funnel web bite are visible puncture wounds, pain, swelling and redness, numbness in or around the mouth, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pains, excessive saliva and sweating, difficulty breathing, drowsiness, fast heart rate and muscle spasms particularly in the tongue.

A female Sydney funnel web spider used for milking at Macquarie University. Source: Getty

The Australian Reptile Park said it was also vital for households across Sydney where funnel web spiders are known to inhabit the local area to have a spider removal kit available.

“Residents in areas that have a high number of funnel webs are urged to know first aid and have a spider safety kit ready,” according to Australian Reptile Park Curator, Liz Vella.

“The kit should include a glass jar with air holes in the lid, a plastic ruler to guide the spider into the jar.”

Ms Hunstead said it was vital that children are educated on the dangers of spiders and are taught to co-exist with them, rather than provoking them.

“Spiders are an important part of the ecosystem. We just need to educate our children to leave them alone. Don’t stick things such as fingers or sticks into holes and know the first aid in case a bite does occur,” she said.

Where funnel web spiders can be found

The Australian Museum notes that funnel web holes generally have silk trip lines at the entrance and are most common in Sydney in the Hornsby Plateau in the north, Woronora Plateau in the south and the Blue Mountains in the west.

“[The Sydney funnel web spider] remains an icon of fear and fascination for Sydneysiders,” its website says.

They also live in the moist forest regions of the east coast and highlands of Australia from Tasmania to north Queensland.

They are also found in the drier open forests of the Western Slopes of the Great Dividing Range and South Australia's Gulf ranges.

For a detailed video of how to apply a pressure bandage, watch the above CPR Kids video or head to their website for further child safety and medical advice.

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