31 October 2020 18:34

Great fox-spider

One of the UK's largest and most endangered spiders has been spotted for the first time in more than 25 years. The great fox-spider is listed as "critically endangered" and was feared to be extinct in the UK before it was rediscovered at a Ministry of Defence (MoD) training area in Surrey. Previously it had not been seen since the early 1990s and had only ever been found at three sites in Dorset and Surrey. Mike Waite, from the Surrey Wildlife Trust, said he was "over the moon" with the discovery. He said: "This formidable-looking creature is an impressive beast, perfectly camouflaged and also largely nocturnal, and for all its size it has been remarkably elusive." The arachnid-enthusiast spent two years searching late at night for the creature.

Finally, he discovered some unidentifiable immature spiderlings on MoD land managed by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust. He then found several mature males and one female great fox-spider, which was 55mm, or just over two inches, in diameter including its hairy, spiny legs. The great fox-spider Alopecosa fabrilis is one of the largest of the wolf-spider Lycosidae family of spiders. It is an opportunistic predator which hunts at night and is named for its wolf-like habit of chasing down its prey, across sandy terrain, over gravel and rocks before pouncing and capturing insects on the run. The spider has eight black eyes and will immobilise its prey, including beetles, ants and smaller spiders, by injecting them with venom which liquifies the internal organs of the insect.

They shelter in silk-lined burrows or holes under rocks and Mr Waite now plans to continue his study to gauge the size of the population. Nick Baker, naturalist, TV presenter and president of the British Arachnological Society, said: "The prefix 'great' doesn't seem to do it justice, maybe it should be the fabulous, or fantastic fox-spider. "Even if the back story of its rarity and its rediscovery wasn't taken into count, this spider is mega. It's about as handsome as a spider gets, it's big and now it's officially a member of the British fauna again. "The rediscovery of the great fox-spider is indeed the most exciting thing to happen in wildlife circles for quite some time. Glad it's in safe hands." A rare spider that uses powerful venom to liquify the organs of its prey has been discovered on a military training site in Surrey for the first time in a generation. The great fox-spider was previously thought to be extinct and has been listed as critically endangered, but wildlife enthusiast Mike Waite has now turned up some of the large spiders on a Ministry of Defence base in the south of England. The spiders have only ever been observed at three sites in the UK in Dorset and Surrey, and hadn't been seen at all since the early '90s. Waite said that he was 'over the moon' to have proven that the two-inch (5cm) spiders were still present. The great fox-spider. It all started when he discovered some spiderlings - baby spiders - that he couldn't identify at the side, which is managed by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust after - he said - 'many hours of late night searching with a torch over the last two years'. Then, he found several mature male spiders and a female. Waite told The Guardian: "As soon as my torch fell on it I knew what it was. I was elated. With coronavirus there have been lots of ups and downs this year, and I also turned 60, so it was a good celebration of that. It's a gorgeous spider, if you're into that kind of thing." Aye, if you're into that sort of thing, sure. The great fox-spider doesn't make webs, instead it kills smaller spiders, beetles and ants by injecting them with venom that immobilises them and liquifies their internal organs. Cute little thing, isn't it? The females are about two inches long. Nick Baker, the TV presenter and president of the British Arachnological Society, said that this is the 'the most exciting thing to happen in wildlife circles for quite some time'. He added: "It's about as handsome as a spider gets, it's big and now it's officially a member of the British fauna again." They're difficult to spot because of their camouflage, and the fact that they hunt largely at night. In the winter, they burrow underground and spin a silk lining for their hole, entering a state of almost hibernation. Advert 10 Mike Waite. Credit: Mike Waite/Surrey Wildlife Trust Waite added: "I am naturally over the moon to have finally proved the continued existence of the Great Fox-Spider in the UK.