Ladybird spider back from brink

Ladybirdspider [pic: Natural England]

The ladybird spider spends most of its life underground

A rare spider has crawled its way back from the brink of extinction in the UK through a captive breeding programme.

Numbers of the ladybird spider, named because of bright red and black markings on the male during mating season, dipped to 56 at a Dorset site.

But since that count in 1994, a fresh web count showed numbers have risen to about 1,000 at the same site.

Conservation efforts, such as heathland management and scrub clearance, have been credited for the revival.

Conservation has focused on captive breeding and relocation of small numbers of ladybird spiders to suitable heathland in Dorset.

Natural England carried out conservation efforts with the Ministry of Defence, Herpetological Conservation Trust, the Forestry Commission, Dudley Zoo and members from the British Arachnological Society.

Dr Helen Phillips, chief executive of Natural England, said: “Heathland habitats have become increasingly fragmented and degraded in recent decades, placing the fate of many of our species in the balance.

“There is nothing inevitable about this and no reason why we should simply accept biodiversity loss as an unfortunate price of 21st Century life.

“The success of the ladybird spider recovery programme shows what can be done and we are delighted at the very hopeful signs that England’s most elusive spider is on the road to recovery.”

The small spider spends most of its life underground, living a solitary existence in a silk-lined burrow.

They eat a range of large beetles, bees and wasps.

The unmanaged fragmentation of heathland during the past 100 years had been blamed for the spider’s decline in numbers.

Story from the BBC News Monday, 16 February 2009