Saving England's most threatened species from extinction

The secret world of spiders!

Web Blog- No Pun intended!

#lovespiders “Fallen in love again...” you know that John Lennon song? If you don’t, listen to it right now as that is ME and how I feel about my new love – SPIDERS!

 

On starting as the Ladybird Spider Project Officer, I knew very little about spiders... Actually, I feel I should be really honest here, I knew almost NOTHING about our amazing arachnids, I have had to go back to school!

So, apart from the fact that arachnids are a class within the Phylum of Arthropods (i.e arthropods have jointed limbs, hard exoskeleton, they moult as they grow, have segmented body and paired jointed appendages) - I thought it might be a good idea to do some basic research on them to plump up my knowledge base. Arachnida is a class of animals with over 100,000 described species!

There are quite a lot of species of Arachnid so a focusing exercise of the order Aranea i.e. spiders, was going to be the key to my success. I felt I really needed to know things, for instance - why are they so important, how do they move about, what is so special about spider silk and how do they make it, why do so many people not like them… Well, it turns out that to really get to know spiders you need to think outside the orb web! I honestly didn’t realise that spiders were so fascinating and I can’t do their amazingness justice in one blog piece so I hope to give you short insights over the course of the project.

Firstly, think of diversity and personally - insects would have been the first group that springs to mind.
WELL I INVITE YOU TO THINK AGAIN!
Take the fact that spiders occupy almost all conceivable terrestrial habitats all over the world except for Antarctica, there are over 47,742 different species belonging to 117 ‘families’ and it is estimated there are hundreds of thousands yet to be described - that is a showcase for diversity right there! Seriously, the number of species described is changing every day!
When I originally looked up how many spiders there are worldwide on the world spider catalogue in around March this year, there were 47,526... By my calculations that is ACTUALLY at least one new species per day!

We don’t have THAT many species here in the UK but we do have over 670 different species which are classed into 34 separate families. Now that means that we have representatives of 30% of all spider families right here on our doorsteps!
That got me uber excited about spider diversity but also a little freaked out as that is a lot of species to learn about, quickly, as for some reason when people hear I am conserving a rare spider they assume I am an expert arachnologist!!!!

SHOCKING FACT- of the 670 species we have in the UK, it has been estimated that 20% of them i.e. 134 species, or one in five, are classed as ‘Threatened’ [Critically Endangered (including Possibly Extinct species), Endangered, Vulnerable and Near Threatened]. The Spider Status Review also states that 3 species have actually gone extinct!

We hear of this about our biggest mammals but how come I haven’t heard this on the news???

So, with all of the above in mind, I decided that, rather than trying to cram my ever-decreasing brain with loads of information and facts on new species, I would need to start with the Ladybird Spider namely Eresus sandaliatus i.e. a mere one out of the 670; find out where else this species inhabits on our planet and who, what and where are its relatives.

“Keep the information flow to ONE spider Family? Excellent plan” I hear you say 😉

The Ladybird Spider is a resident in Dorset only and nowhere else in the UK, there have been ‘sightings’ in the past but a survey in 1996 from Cornwall to Lincolnshire on historical sites did not find any evidence of one of our most spectacular spiders!
In fact, there were only seven recorded individuals between 1816 and 1906 in South Dorset so from 1906 it was thought to have gone extinct!
However, in 1979 it was accidently ‘re-discovered’ during a survey by arachnologists Peter Merritt and Roly Snazell.
The only population was monitored carefully from its rediscovery and placed under the protection of the Wildlife and Countryside Act as the population was (and still is) vulnerable to extinction.
In 1991 this spider was designated as Endangered on The GB Red List and subsequently placed onto the Species Recovery Programme.
In 2007 this spider was classed as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species which has now been superseded as an England NERC Act Section 41 Species of Principal Importance.

Eresus sandaliatus is the only representative Genus of this family Erisidae –‘the Velvet Spiders’ in the UK. The family group Erisidae consists of 9 Genera (a principal taxonomic category that ranks above species and below family) and 98 species worldwide, and they are found mainly in Africa and Europe.
However, one Genus in the family is found in Asia and South America – Stegodyphus - and both ZSL and Bristol Zoo have these social spiders in their exhibits.

In terms of the Genus Eresus, there are 21 species which are found across much of Europe with two species occurring in Russia. Eresus sandaliatus is recorded from as far north as Sweden and Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and France, in Central Europe (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany) and as far south as Greece and Turkey. It is considered rare in the northern countries but more frequent as you go further south.

Hopefully that has given you a little bit of an insight into the amazing diversity of spiders, and has sparked an interest in how amazing our arachnids are! Not to mention how rare our Ladybird Spider is in the UK as well as some of our other spiders.

I do hope this has been of interest and keep an eye out on our blogs/website for more stories coming soon describing spider legs and claws as well as spider webs and silk!

 

Caroline Kelly

Ladybird Spider Project Officer, BftB

Don’t forget #Lovespiders!

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

1 thought on “The secret world of spiders!

  1. bizarre sighting of one of these spiders 23 years ago …… i lived in a terrace house in the middle of exeter and found one on my doorstep !!!! once seen never forgotten, i picked it up and took it to the end of the road where at that stage there was scrub land (now houses have been built there ) the front of my house had facing on it over the bricks and every evening you could see loads of spiders legs sticking out all the way from pavement to gutter so i assumed at that stage that this spider was living there. i never saw another one and coulnt at that stage find anything about what type of spider it was . when i saw the bak from the brink photo i almost screamed out “thats my spider “. i know that it should’t have been there , maybe someone had been keeping it as a pet.

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