One of Britain’s largest spiders has been discovered on a Ministry of Defence training ground in Surrey having not been seen in the country for 27 years.
The great fox-spider is a night-time hunter, known for its speed and agility, as well as its eight black eyes which give it wraparound vision. The critically endangered spider was assumed extinct in Britain after last being spotted in 1993 on Hankley Common in Surrey. The two-inch-wide (5cm) arachnid had previously also been spotted at two sites in Morden Heath in Dorset. These are the only three areas in Britain, all in the comparatively warmer south, where it has been recorded.
Mike Waite from Surrey Wildlife Trust discovered the elusive spider after two years of trawling around after dark looking for it on the Surrey military site, which the MoD is not naming for security reasons.
“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,” said Waite.
The great fox-spider is one of the largest members of the wolf-spider family, hunting spiders that do not use webs to catch prey. It chases down beetles, ants and smaller spiders before pouncing on them and injecting deadly venom. The prey is immobilised and its internal organs liquefy. The spider – which poses no risk to humans – feeds using fang-bearing jaws.
M0D sites are often kept open because military exercises cause minor disturbance to the vegetation, which stops succession of shrubs and trees. Waite used aerial photos to find bare sandy patches, which suit the spider’s ambush-style hunting techniques, and spotted the first one next to Jeep tracks. In total, he found several males, one female and some unidentifiable immature spiderlings.
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SOURCE: The Guardian, Phoebe Weston