Spi­der that walks on wa­ter is thriv­ing

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

ONE of Bri­tain’s largest, and rarest spi­ders seemed to have reached record num­bers just in time for Hal­loween.

The species goes by the name of, semi-aquatic fen raft spi­der, and if spi­ders are not your thing, this beauty is def­i­nitely the stuff of your night­mares, so much that I left this piece un­til the fes­tiv­i­ties and frights were over!

But don’t worry, un­like the gi­ant house spi­ders seek­ing dark spa­ces and crevices be­hind the fire­place at this time of year, the raft spi­der prefers to make its home in fens and marsh ditches, and thanks to a highly suc­cess­ful trans-lo­ca­tion project the rare spi­ders are now thriv­ing on Strump­shaw Fen in the Nor­folk Broads. With over 480 nurs­ery webs counted this sea­son – July-Oc­to­ber - com­pared with 184 in 2014, this new pop­u­la­tion puts the spi­der in a much more se­cure po­si­tion as a UK species. Tim Strud­wick, RSPB Site Man­ager at Strump­shaw Fen na­ture re­serve, said: “It is fan­tas­tic to see the spi­ders now thriv­ing on the re­serve, hav­ing been first re­leased in 2012.

“The spi­ders are do­ing so well due to the ex­cel­lent con­di­tion of the habi­tat and our man­age­ment of the graz­ing marshes is main­tain­ing ideal con­di­tions for them. They have ex­actly the right veg­e­ta­tion mix along the ditches to sup­port their nurs­ery webs and the rich­ness of in­ver­te­brate prey that the spi­ders need. It is great to see the spi­ders are re­spond­ing by ex­tend­ing their range into new ditches.” Un­like our eight-legged friends you may find lurk­ing un­der­neath the sofa this au­tumn, th­ese wa­ter­walk­ing gi­ants can be found liv­ing in ditches and pools in chalky wet­lands. The fen raft spi­der is a strik­ing crea­ture with a dark body and cream stripes down the side; they are very large and fe­males can some­times reach up to the size of the palm of a hand.

Up un­til 2010 there were only three known pop­u­la­tions in the UK, leav­ing the species very vul­ner­a­ble and at real risk of extinction. Un­like most in­ver­te­brates, it is easy to mon­i­tor the pop­u­la­tion through their en­chant­ing, crys­tal-like nurs­ery webs in which they raise their young. This year has seen an in­crease in the num­ber of webs at all of the sites where the spi­ders were re­leased. Over a thou­sand nurs­eries have been counted at one of the new sites – a Suf­folk Wildlife Trust na­ture re­serve – where tiny spi­der­lings were first re­leased just five years ago. The spi­ders have also spread from the 500m stretch of ditch where they were re­leased to oc­cupy over 3km of ditches within the re­serve.

Other RSPB re­serves across the coun­try are also home to some fas­ci­nat­ing rare spi­der species. Clu­biona gen­even­sis, which can be found on RSPB’s Ram­sey Is­land, is one of the UK’s small­est and rarest crit­ters.

This tiny is­land res­i­dent is orange-yel­low in colour and mea­sures just 3 mm in length.

Lady­bird spi­ders, named af­ter their dis­tinc­tive bright red and black mark­ings on the ma­ture males, were thought to be ex­tinct un­til re­dis­cov­ered at one site in Dorset at the end of the last cen­tury.

The RSPB has been work­ing with ex­perts in an­other ground-break­ing rein­tro­duc­tion pro­gramme by pro­vid­ing a home for them at Arne na­ture re­serve in Dorset. New ev­i­dence has shown that they have bred and are grad­u­ally spread­ing their range.

There are of course many other RSPB Re­serves nearer to home, but judg­ing by re­cent reader com­mu­ni­ca­tion, there are a lot of you out there who like to travel. Closer to home, I would al­ways rec­om­mend Leighton Moss, Silverdale, Lan­cashire, not least for the marsh har­ri­ers, bearded tits and bit­terns, but also for the chance of an English Ot­ter. Fur­ther afield my own favourite RSPB Re­serve would have to be Forsi­nard

Flows in the far north of Scot­land. A threat­ened peat­land land­scape, with breed­ing golden plovers, hen har­ri­ers and green­shanks. Oh, and be­fore I for­get, the fen spi­der walks on wa­ter and eats fish.

The Laugh­ing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

●● A close-up shot of a semi-aquatic fen raft spi­der

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.