Described as ‘gorgeous’ by the man who found it, the great fox-spider has not been seen since 1993.
Spider enthusiast Mike Waite of the Surrey Wildlife Trust rediscovered the rare creature at a military training site in Surrey, upending fears the spider was extinct in the UK.
Mr Waite has spent two years hunting for the nocturnal spider at the military site, the place it was last seen in 1993. “One night all my endeavours paid off when I was out searching with my light, walking the sandy pathways – there it was,” he told i. “It was a golden moment.”
He told how he found 22 Great Fox-spiders, including a large mature female. “As soon as the torch light spotlighted it, instantly I knew what it was, because of the size and markings, it was a fantastic, big and beautiful female Great Fox-spider. I had seen so many pictures of it online, and there was one in front of me,” he said.
The Great Fox-spider is known for its distinctive, fox-like hunting style. It chases down its prey across sandy terrain, gravel and rocks before pouncing on its fleeing insect prey. It then injects the insect with venom to immobilize its prey (the venom also liquefies the insect’s internal organs) before tucking in.
The UK is right on the edge of the spider’s natural territory. It has only ever been spotted at three sites; the military base, and two other sites in Dorset. Larger populations can be found in continental Europe.
But Mr Waite is confident this newly discovered population can survive, thanks to its access to ideal habitat undisturbed by development or farming. He plans to continue his study, examining the size of the current population.
“The rediscovery of the Great Fox-Spider is indeed the most exciting thing to happen in wildlife circles for quite some time,” commented Nick Baker, president of the British Arachnological Society. “Glad it’s in safe hands.”