Kate on Conservation

Britain’s largest and most endangered spider species rediscovered


It’s the kind of Halloween story that naturalists will love! Surrey Wildlife Trust has rediscovered Great Fox-Spiders after more than 25 years without a UK sighting.

The ground dwelling and largely nocturnal Great Fox-Spider was found to be living on a Ministry of Defence (MOD) training area in Surrey.

The Great Fox-Spider is Red-listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ and was feared extinct in the UK, as it had only ever been found at three sites — two in Dorset and the other in Surrey — but hadn’t been seen since the early 1990s.

Mike Waite, spider enthusiast at Surrey Wildlife Trust, had never given up hope that he might find the monster spider.

Mike Waite discovered the population

“I am naturally over-the-moon to have finally proved the continued existence of the Great Fox-Spider in the UK. The spider is at the very edge of its range in the UK, which accounts for its super rarity here,” he explained.

Over the last two years, Mike spent many hours of late night searching with a torch before finally discovering several mature males and one female Great Fox-Spider on MOD land managed by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust.

The female Great Fox-Spider was 55mm or just over two inches in diameter including its hairy, spiny legs.

“This formidable-looking creature is an impressive beast,” Mike added. “Perfectly camouflaged and also largely nocturnal, and for all its size it has been remarkably elusive.”

About the Great Fox-Spider

With excellent eyesight, camouflage and speed, the Great Fox-Spider Alopecosa fabrilis is one of the largest of the Wolf-Spider Lycosidae family of spiders.

Photo Credit: Mike Waite

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.

Great Fox-Spiders immobilize their prey, including insects such as beetles, ants and smaller spiders, by injecting them with venom, which liquifies the internal organs of the insect.

The spider is then ready to feast on its catch using its strong, fang-bearing front appendages called chelicerae.

Characteristics of the Great Fox-Spider

Not only incredibly agile and fast running, Great Fox-Spiders have excellent eyesight with wrap-around vision provided by eight black eyes on its head, or cephalothorax.

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.

Photo Credit: Mike Waite

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.

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 the Great Fox-Spider is indeed the most exciting thing to happen in wildlife circles for quite some time.”

Mike Waite now plans to continue his study to gauge the size of the population.

For further information or to support Surrey Wildlife Trust visit www.surreywildlifetrust.org

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