A warm spring followed by a wet summer has created a bumper year for spiders in the UK, according to scientists.
The abundance of spiders is believed to be down to a plentiful supply of pollen earlier in the year, which has produced an influx of insects on which spiders prey.
As cooler temperatures set in, spiders such as the house spider (Tegenaria domestica) move into homes in search of warmth and a mate. With arachnophobia being one of the most common phobias in the UK, this invasion is not welcomed by everyone and has led to an increase in calls to zoos to report strange spiders.
Spider expert Angela Hale says, “People suddenly start seeing big spiders everywhere and think they have some exotic breed on their hands. But the reality is that at this time of year they are mating and are pregnant. So you are seeing the males scuttling around looking for the females and then you have the females with great bulbous bodies full of eggs.”
Britain’s largest spider to be reintroduced
This year is also looking good for one of the UK’s most endangered species of spider, the fen raft spider (Dolomedes plantarius). With a leg span of around 10 centimetres, this is the largest species of spider in the UK. The numbers of this species have fallen in recent years due to the degradation of its wetland habitat, but keepers at Chessington Zoo are now hand raising 200 baby fen raft spiders in order to release them back into the wild.
Occurring in just three places in the UK, the fen raft spider does not build a web but hunts on the water’s surface, capturing prey as large as sticklebacks. The captive-reared spiderlings are currently being hand-fed on a diet of fruit flies until they are large enough for release in October.
Their keeper, Bob Ward, said, “Having to feed 200 spiders one at a time is certainly a challenge, but it’s vital to help see them through the most vulnerable period of their lives before they are released back into the wild, as they will then have a much better chance of surviving.”
Ladybird spiders released in Dorset
Arguably one of the UK’s most beautiful spiders, the ladybird spider is another species that has benefitted from conservation action. Once feared extinct in the UK, this elusive species spends most of its time underground and get its name from the bright red and black markings of the mature males.
Reduced to just 56 individuals by habitat loss, the ladybird spider population has soared to over 1,000 since 1994, thanks to conservation efforts. However, it still only occurs at a few sites in Dorset, so 30 individuals have recently been released at the RSPB’s Arne reserve to boost its populations.
A warden at the reserve, Toby Branston, said, “To be introducing such a rare new species here is very exciting, and I hope we can help spread it further.”
Find out more about ladybird spider conservation on the BBC news website.
Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author