The formidable fangs of the Sydney funnel-web spider (Atrax robustus) are certainly intimidating, but it's this spider's venom that you really need to watch out for.
Photo Credit: Alex Wild
According to National Geographic, the fangs of A. robustus "may be the most dangerous 'teeth' in the world." We think that's a bit of an overstatement. Having said that, the powerful mouthparts of A. robustus are said to be capable of piercing through fingernails (we'd love to hear the story behind that little factoid), so we can totally understand why NatGeo's description might be a touch on the hysterical side. Here's the Australian Museum with a more measured take:
Not all species [of funnel-web spider] are known to be dangerous, but several are renowned for their highly toxic and fast acting venom. The male of Atrax robustus, the Sydney Funnel-web Spider, is probably responsible for all recorded deaths (13) and many medically serious bites. This remarkable spider has become a part of Sydney's folklore and, although no deaths have been recorded since the introduction of an antivenom in 1981, it remains an icon of fear and fascination for Sydneysiders.
Entomologist Alex Wild (whose remarkable ant-photography we've covered previously) captured these incredible photographs on a recent visit to the venomous chemistry lab (!) of David Wilson, a researcher at James Cook University's Centre for Biodiscovery and Molecular Development of Therapeutics.
Over at Scientific American, Wild recounts in detail how he managed to acquire the spectacular view seen above:
Dr. Wilson coaxed one of the animals, a male A. robustus, part-way from its burrow, poking it to induce a standard threat display. The spider would then sit motionless for several minutes thereafter, fangs bared and legs raised. As someone used to frenetic ants, a sedentary spider was magic! The animal just posed, still as marble.
Complement with this handy guide to the difference between venomous and poisonous: