Hull's Deep helping protect rare British fen raft spider
THE Deep is playing a crucial role in helping to protect one of the UK's most endangered spiders.
In a move away from its marine conservation, the aquarium is fostering 100 fen raft spiderlings in an effort to establish new populations.
The fen raft spider is one of the UK's rarest and largest spiders and only three natural populations exist.
They are one of only two UK spiders to be fully protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
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Katy Duke, curator at The Deep, said: "We are delighted to be involved in this pioneering project.
"The fen raft spider is one of the most spectacular and largest spiders in the UK and this scheme will help to safeguards its future."
The project, being led by Natural England, involves collecting spiders from their natural habitat at Redgrave and Lopham Fens on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.
The egg bundles are removed from the wild and the young, only two millimetres in size, are hatched and raised in captivity before being released back into the wild.
These semi-aquatic spiders can grow to about 8cm in leg span and live for about three years.
Mrs Duke said: "When spiders lay eggs in the wild, the survival rate is extremely low, despite them laying between 200 and 500 eggs. This has really impacted the population over the years.
"This scheme involves the 'foster parents' raising the spiders in a controlled environment in individual containers to ensure that the spiderlings live."
The scheme has so far been a huge success.
Mrs Duke said: "So far in the programme, we have seen phenomenal survival rates of more than 85 per cent.
"The spiderlings spend a few months with us, growing and gaining strength. They will then be introduced back into the wild at Lopham Fens in early September.
"By 2020, the aim is to increase the number of locations from three to 12."
fen raft spiders feed on a range of wetland invertebrates as well as small amphibians and fish.
They can walk on water and hunt for prey both at the surface and underwater. They need a year-round supply of unpolluted water to survive.
The first spider was discovered at Redgrave and Lopham Fens National Nature Reserve in 1956.
Since then, they have also been found at two other sites, one in East Sussex and one in South Wales.
The programme is a partnership between Natural England, Suffolk and Sussex Wildlife Trusts, The Broads Authority, the RSPB, zoo and aquarium organisation BIAZA and the BBC Wildlife Fund.