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Festively-dressed spider doing well in new home

Last modified: 21 December 2015

Ladybird spider

Image: Ian Hughes

One of the UK's rarest spiders is finding its new home in Dorset to its liking according to a new survey.

This arachnid-Santa-wannabe, otherwise known as the ladybird spider – so-called because of the males’ bright red body covered in black spots, and black and white legs – was on the brink of extinction in the mid 1980s when a single colony of just 7 individuals was left in the UK. Since then conservationists have been helping it to spread further afield.

In 2011, it was released into one of the most diverse insect and spider habitats in the country, the RSPB’s Arne reserve in Dorset. Surveys carried out this year show that the spiders are doing well and are now expanding outside of the original release areas.

Toby Branston, RSPB Dorset Reserve Ecology Manager said: “It’s great to see this incredible little spider doing well in its new home. The hard work has started to pay off. Searches this year have found five new webs away from the release sites as well as others in their original ‘bottle-homes’. A great sign that the spiders are feeling settled here at Arne.”

During the original translocation, scientists used an ingenious low-tech method of transferring the spiders. They used empty plastic mineral water bottles which are an ideal shape and size for the spiders to make their nests in. The bottles were filled with heather and moss and captured spiders from the donor site were placed inside and monitored while they settled in and made a web. The bottles were then buried in holes in the ground so that the spiders could colonise the nearby area.

The RSPB reserve at Arne boasts over 250 species of spider and hundreds of insect species including the threatened silver studded blue butterfly, and the Purbeck mason wasp which is only found in Dorset.

For many years scientists believed that ladybird spiders were extinct in the UK but a small colony was discovered clinging on at one site in the 1980s. It is a heathland specialist and has suffered over the years from the destruction of much of our wildlife rich heathland habitat. More than 90 per cent of our lowland heathland has been lost to agriculture, commercial forestry and development, putting major pressure on the species that rely on it.

As well as insects and spiders, heathland is also home to endangered reptiles such as smooth snakes and sand lizards, and birds such as the Dartford warbler and the nightjar.


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