The nearest thing to a tarantula you are likely see in the British countryside has returned with a vengeance.
Fen raft spiders the size of a man’s palm are on the march after years of being under threatof extinction in the UK.
But arachnophobes need not fear. These monster-size invertebrates never seek the dark nooks and crannies under a bed or cupboard, but instead prefer to spin their webs along the marshy ditches of East Anglia.
They are striking creatures with dark bodies adorned with creamy stripes and are dab hands at floating on the surface of ditch-water to hunt. Sticklebacks are a favourite prey.
New population figures, published appropriately on October 31, show how the spiders’ silky nurseries have almost trebled at an RSPB sanctuary for the protected species in East Anglia over the last 12 months.
Five years ago, there were only three known fen raft spider populations in the UK but a pioneering translocation programme by conservationists and funders, including the Suffolk and Sussex Wildlife Trusts, Natural England, the Broads Authority, RSPB and the British Arachnological Society, has proven hugely successful.
The RSPB says between July and October this year 480 fen raft spider webs were counted near its Srumpshaw Fen reserve in Norfolk compared with 184 in 2014.
At another site in Suffolk, where tiny spiderlings were first released just five years ago, more than a 1,000 nurseries were found this summer and spiders now occupy two miles of ditches.
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