HUNDREDS of the UK’s rarest spiders are being reared at Chester Zoo as part of a conservation programme to ensure their survival.
Lead keeper Karen Lambert – a former arachnophobe (scared of spiders)– is hand-rearing 400 of the fen raft spiderlings in a purpose-built, bio-secure pod at the zoo.
She will act as a foster parent to the youngsters for about two months until they are strong enough to face the outside world and be released back into their natural habitat.
Karen’s work is part of a conservation programme aimed at saving the UK’s rarest, and biggest, spider.
She said: “The spiders are kept in separate test tubes so they do not eat each other and I individually hand feed them with fruit flies. It’s a labour intensive job for that number of spiders but vital for the species’ future.”
The dedicated keeper spends two hours a day, seven days a week alone with the spiders in the special breeding facility – surprising as she confesses to having suffered from arachnophobia until her early twenties.
“I’d run a mile at the sight of even a house spider,” she added.
“But when I started working at Chester Zoo and began to learn about them, I realised what fascinating creatures they are and my fear just disappeared.”
Fen raft spiders are one of only two British spiders fully protected by law and are named after their ability to float on water in the fens and wetlands where they live – all thanks to their hairy legs. But major losses to its wetland habitat means they are found in only three sites in Britain – in Norfolk, East Sussex and South Wales.