People all over the country may be running away from fake spiders this week, but keepers at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo are busy welcoming a group of rare baby spiders into their new home.
The Zoo is participating in the Desertas Wolf Spider Programme, which has seen them receive 25 critically endangered Desertas wolf spiderlings (Hogna ingens), in the hope of breeding and studying the largest known species of wolf spider.
The spiderlings, which were bred at Bristol Zoo Gardens, are not currently on show to the public, but are being looked after by ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s keepers as part of the species’ European Endangered Species Programme (EEP). The programme brings together several UK zoos, and it is hoped that some spiders from the programme will be reintroduced into the wild.
Desertas wolf spiders may sound like something from a Halloween nightmare, but despite being capable of delivering a painful, non-lethal bite, it is in fact the spider species that needs humans to save them from extinction.
The Desertas wolf spider is one of the most endangered spiders in the world and is only found in one particular valley on the island of Deserta Grande, located off the coast of Madeira, Portugal. They are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List and their wild populations are under threat from habitat loss, due to the introduction of non-native species.
Team Leader, Alex Cliffe said: “The Ectotherms Team here at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo are so proud to be taking part in the Desertas Wolf Spider Programme, which aims to help save a critically endangered and truly incredible species.
“Our spiderlings are tiny right now but they should grow to have a leg-span of about 10-15cm. These remarkable invertebrates, unlike most other spiders, do not spin webs. Instead, they are agile hunters with excellent eyesight, that also burrow, using their silk as a protective layer in the substrate. In the wild, they feed on small insects, other spiders and small lizards.
“We hope that by studying and breeding these spiders, we will be able to learn and share some of the information needed to save this fascinating species from extinction.”
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo regularly works with other European zoos on conservation breeding programmes, and has previously been part of reintroduction programmes for the extinct-in-the-wild scimitar-horned oryx and endangered przewalskii horse.