One of the rarest spiders in the world has been bred in captivity at Bristol Zoo in a world first.
More than 1,000 tiny Desertas wolf spiderlings have hatched in the Zoo’s Bug World. Some of the babies have even been hand-reared by dedicated keepers from tiny eggs.
In the wild there is thought to be a population of just 4000 adult spiders, which are only found in one valley on one of the Desertas Islands, near Madeira, Portugal. So the hatchings are a boost for the species and it is hoped that some of the spiderlings can be returned to their native habitat in the future to boost dwindling numbers in the wild. They are under threat because of habitat loss, an invasive grass is binding the soil where they burrow and blocking their natural shelters.
The baby spiders are just 4mm in diameter but grow to be huge, impressive-looking black and white adults up to 12cm in size with a body size of 4cm.
Bristol Zoo has joined forces with Instituto das Florestas e Conservação de Natureza (IFCN) and the IUCN to develop a conservation strategy to protect the species in an effort to prevent it becoming extinct.
Last year, as part of the conservation effort, Bristol Zoo’s Curator of Invertebrates, Mark Bushell, travelled to Desertas Grande with Zoo vet Richard Saunders and collected 25 Desertas wolf spiders to be brought back to the Zoo to breed as a ‘safety net’ population.
Bristol Zoo now plans to send hundreds of the tiny spiderlings to other Zoos in the UK and Europe to set up further breeding groups as part of a collaborative conservation programme for the species.