Thursday 23 March 2017

Hand-reared baby spiders released

An adult female fen raft spider
An adult female fen raft spider
Thousands of hand-reared baby spiders are being released into the wild in a bid to boost numbers
Prepared tubes containing 'spiderlings'

Thousands of hand-reared baby spiders are being released into the wild this week in a bid to boost numbers of one of the UK's most endangered species, Natural England has said.

Some 3,000 baby fen raft spiders - a species found in just two sites in England - were bred in the kitchen of ecologist Dr Helen Smith.

Dr Smith then hand-reared many of the baby spiders, while others were reared by the John Innes Centre, after the breeding programme used parents from both sites to improve the genetic variation of the population being released into the wild.

The "spiderlings" have been kept in separate test tubes so they do not attack each other and individually hand fed with fruit flies.

They are now ready to be released into their wetland habitat at Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Castle Marshes reserve, between Lowestoft and Beccles.

The fen raft spider was discovered in 1956, and is classed as an endangered species in the UK, with tiny populations in just two sites in England and one in Wales.

Dr Pete Brotherton, head of biodiversity for Natural England, said: "Numbers of the fen raft spider have dwindled to perilously low levels in England - isolated to a few remaining pockets of habitat, it would be difficult for the remaining populations to recover on their own.

"Targeted reintroduction has given this endangered species a second chance and it is encouraging to see how the work of dedicated ecologists like Helen can make a real difference to the fortunes of our threatened wildlife."

Dr Smith said hand-rearing more than a thousand baby spiders since the spring was an "exhausting" job.

"At one stage I was up until 2am, seven days a week, feeding flies to hungry young spiders in my kitchen. I'm excited and relieved to see them making their own way in the world - and I can finally have my kitchen back."

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