December 10 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
They lurk in dark places out of prying eyes - but lift a manhole cover in Suffolk or Essex and you are likely to find one of Britain’s biggest spiders, thriving close by.
The mysterious cave spiders, which can reach 30mm in diameter, are usually hidden from sights but have been increasingly spotted at Anglian Water’s sites near Ipswich, Colchester, Sudbury and Haverhill.
Steven Falk, an entomologist at invertebrate conservation charity Buglife said the sightings have demonstrated a far more widespread presence than previously thought.
“These are mystery shrouded and spectacular spiders that do a great job of hiding from us, but are actually proving to be far more widespread than we had ever imagined,” he said.
“Open up a manhole cover and go deep into a canal tunnel and there is a good chance you will see a cave spider or its suspended egg cocoon.
“We are getting increasing numbers of reports from water engineers in parts of Britain, many miles from caves - it makes you wonder how on earth they got there.”
One such water engineer, Adrian Hinchliffe, who is also a keen wildlife photographer regularly comes across the spiders on his rounds and has managed to capture some of the shy, retiring creatures on camera.
“We first noticed one on a float probe at our site in Great Wratting near Haverhill,” he said.
“We saw it was much larger than normal spiders so I took some pictures. We’ve found them on several sites since.
“They are repelled by lights and have to be in the dark, so they like our meter chambers, which are sunk in the ground.
“Every now and then we have to inspect these chambers and lift the covers and see these rather large spiders.
“You have to break through the webs and can see the tear-shaped egg sacks hanging down - it can be a bit daunting.
The spiders - whose scientific name is Meta bourneti - have a leg span equivalent to that of a large house spider, when fully grown, but are more closely related to garden spiders.
“They are totally harmless and females can probably live for several years,” Mr Falk added.
Anglian Water’s biodiversity team, which manages sites to be wildlife-friendly is “delighted” with the discovery.