Thursday, 29 September 2011

Test-tube spiders raised at Chessington200 babies are being hand-reared

200 babies are being hand-reared
September 2011: Chessington World of Adventures is taking part in a national conservation programme to help stem the decline of an endangered spider - by individually hand-rearing 200 baby spiders in test tubes.

The fen raft spider is one of the UK's most endangered species and is found at only three sites in the UK. The 200 babies are being hand-reared by experts at Chessington Zoo in Surrey in readiness for being released next month when they will contribute to new populations being established in the Suffolk Broads.

Each spider has to be hand-fed fruit fliesThe tiny spiders, from the Redgrave and Lopham Fen National Nature Reserve on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, have to be kept apart in individual test tubes so they do not attack each other - and with each having to be individually hand-fed fruit flies every four days, it's a very time consuming operation.

Rob Ward, Reptile Keeper at Chessington Zoo, explained: ‘Having to feed 200 spiders one at a time is certainly a challenge, but it is vital to help see them through the most vulnerable period of their lives before they are released back into the wild, as they will then have a much better chance of surviving.

One spider had 714 babies‘The spiders' mums were collected from the wild in June when they carry their eggs in huge silk sacs held in their mouths. When the babies emerge from the sac - this year one of them had 714 babies - the mother guards them in a big silk tent called a nursery web. In the wild the babies leave the web after about a week to fed for themselves. Our captive mums made their nurseries in five-litre water bottles.

‘After a week we used a "pooter" to collect the spiderlings from the nursery, which involves sucking them up into a tube with a piece of mesh and then dropping them into a container - but now we're seeing them grow and they're actually getting too big for the pooter.'

Fen raft spiders grow to a 10cm leg-span, and are one of just two British spiders fully protected by law. They get their name from their ability - thanks to their hairy legs - to float on water in fens and wetlands.

Project partners for the programme include NE (Natural England), the BBC Wildlife Fund, and the Suffolk and Sussex Wildlife trusts.

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