Male funnel-web spiders have evolved to produce deadly venom to protect themselves against predators when they leave their webs to go looking for love.
Researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast and The University of Queensland have found that the much maligned funnel-webs don’t actually mean to kill humans at all.
The university’s Associate Professor Volker Herzig said the discovery was made after researchers examined a peptide in the spiders’ venom called delta hexatoxin.
“It has always been a mystery for us why funnel-web spiders can cause human fatalities, as humans do not feature in their prey spectrum,” Dr Herzig said.
“Originally the delta hexatoxin evolved to kill insects but over time it was modified as a protective mechanism, particularly in the males that leave their burrows for longer periods to find a mate and thereby are more likely to encounter predators,” he said.
“Given that this lethal toxin binds to sodium channels (membrane proteins responsible for sending electrical signals through the body), the natural predator of funnel-web spiders and humans must share some similarity in the toxin-binding site of their respective sodium channels.”
The fact that the spiders’ venom is merely painful to non-primates but deadly to humans is just an unfortunate evolutionary accident.
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