Spider feared extinct rediscovered in Surrey


Surrey Wildlife Trust has rediscovered one of the largest and most endangered of British spiders on a Ministry of Defence (MOD) training area in Surrey, more than 25 years since the last national sighting.

Great Fox-spider is Red-listed as Critically Endangered and was feared extirpated in the UK as it hadn't been observed since 1993 and was only ever found at three sites nationally – two in Dorset and the other in Surrey.

Great Fox-spiders are ground dwelling and largely nocturnal but Mike Waite, spider enthusiast at Surrey Wildlife Trust, had never given up hope that he might find the species, spending many hours searching late at night with a torch over the past two years. Finally, he discovered some unidentifiable immature spiderlings on MOD land managed by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC). Then he found several mature males and one female Great Fox-spider, the latter which was 55 mm in diameter including its hairy, spiny legs.

Great Fox-spider is one of Britain's most spectacular native arachnids, measuring 55 mm across and being beautifully patterned (Surrey Wildlife Trust).

With excellent eyesight, camouflage and speed, Great Fox-spider is one of the largest of the wolf spiders. An opportunistic predator which hunts at night, it 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.

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Not only incredibly agile, Great Fox-spiders have excellent eyesight with wrap-around vision provided by eight black eyes on its head: two large eyes glint from the top of the head; two large eyes stare out the front; and four smaller eyes form a row just above the spider's mouth. Great Fox-spiders immobilize their prey, which includes insects such as beetles, ants and smaller spiders, by injecting them with venom, which liquifies the internal organs of the insect.

Nick Baker, Naturalist, TV Presenter & 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 Great Fox-spider is indeed the most exciting thing to happen in wildlife circles for quite some time. Glad it's in safe hands."

Rob Free, Weald Reserves Manager for ARC, said: "The discovery of Great Fox-spider shows how amazing MOD heathland is, not just for spiders, but also for Sand Lizard, Smooth Snake, Dartford Warbler, European Nightjar, Silver-studded Blue butterfly and Marsh Clubmoss. The spider's rediscovery is a wonderful exoneration of all the incredibly hard work put in by MOD staff, Conservation Group members, ARC staff and volunteers."

For shelter the Great Fox-spiders dig burrows or holes under rocks and logs and make a silk-lined burrow as a retreat for the winter. Mr Waite now plans to continue his study to gauge the size of the population.