Spiderlings learn to fend for themselves
SOME people would shudder at the idea of releasing 100 spiders.
But the move by The Deep could help save an endangered British species.
Staff at the aquarium have spent the past few months rearing the rare fen raft spiderlings.
The eight-legged youngsters have been given special treatment by staff in a bid to help establish new populations.
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The fen raft is one of the UK's rarest and largest spiders and only three natural populations are known.
Katy Duke, curator at The Deep, said: "The spiderling exodus is a great achievement for us.
"It was fantastic to be involved in such an important conservation project and help make a difference in the field.
"Fen Raft spider populations are struggling in the wild, largely due to the deterioration of their wetland habitats.
"This translocation project means that new spider populations can be set up in suitable areas, which will help to boost the number of these rare spiders."
The fen raft is one of only two UK spiders to be fully protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The Deep fostered the spiderlings in individual test tubes after receiving the 2mm-sized babies, which were hatched from egg bundles in captivity during the summer.
Carefully monitoring temperature, humidity and providing them with a nutritious fruit fly diet, The Deep raised the spiderlings to a size and strength suitable enough for survival in the wild.
The semi-aquatic spiders were released in the RSPB's Strumpshaw/mid-Yare reserve, just outside Norwich this week.
As adults, they can reach the size of the palm of a hand with a body length of 23mm.
They live for two years and can walk on water, hunting for prey both at the surface and underwater.
They need a year-round supply of unpolluted water to survive.
The first fen raft 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 translocation programme is a partnership between Natural England, Suffolk and Sussex Wildlife Trusts, The Broads Authority, the RSPB, BIAZA and the BBC Wildlife Fund.
BIAZA organisations across the UK, including The Deep, Bristol Zoo, London Zoo and Chester Zoo, have signed up to become foster parents.