World's rarest spiders take up residence at Askham Bryan College

Posted: 1st November, 2017

One of the world's rarest spiders can now be found at Askham Bryan Wildlife Park as part of a conservation breeding programme to help protect the species and prevent it from becoming extinct.

The Wildlife Park is based at Askham Bryan College, York, and has joined the European Endangered Species Programme for the Desertas wolf spider which is co-ordinated by Bristol Zoo. It is thought that there is only a single population of 4,000 adults left in the wild; they are found in one valley on the Deserta Grande Island near Madeira and are under threat due to habitat loss. Classified as Critically Endangered, these spiders are forming part of a 'safety net' population within European zoological collections.

A world first took place this summer when the spiders were bred as part of a programme at Bristol Zoo and now more than four dozen spiderlings have been safely delivered to Askham Bryan where they are under the care of the Wildlife Park Manager, Caroline Howard.

Caroline said: “These spiders are rarer than pandas, lions or elephants so we are absolutely delighted to take part in this hugely important conservation programme. In addition our students and visitors have the opportunity to see and learn about one of the most endangered spiders on earth. At present, the spiderlings are tiny, about 4mm in diameter, but they will grow to be impressive looking adults, up to 12cm in size. They are settling in very well and have just been upgraded to their 'teenage' homes'.”

The initiative has particular significance for one of the college's students, 20 year old Ryan Stringer, who has chosen the captive environment of the Desertas wolf spider for his dissertation as part of his Zoo Management degree. Ryan is playing a key role in the care of the spiderlings which are being kept in bio-secure facilities at a temperature of between 23-26°c and are enjoying a diet of fruit flies, cockroaches and beetles.

Looking ahead, Caroline added: “The programme's eventual aim is to supplement populations in the wild, so our spiderlings or their descendants may help to boost numbers in their native habitats. There is also fieldwork being undertaken on Desertas Grande Island which we hope to get involved in future.”

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