HUNDREDS of the UK’s rarest spiders are set to be released into the wild after months of careful fostering by keepers at Chester Zoo.
A total of 369 Fen raft spiderlings have been hand-reared as part of a conservation programme aimed at ensuring their survival.
The young spiders were only millimetres in size when they first arrived but, after receiving special care and attention in a bio-secure breeding facility at the zoo, they are now strong enough to face the outside world and returned to their natural habitat.
Keeper Karen Lambert said: “The spiders were all kept in separate test tubes so that they did not eat each other and I had to individually hand feed them fruit flies.
“It was an incredibly time consuming job for such a large number of spiders but it’s something I relished doing as it’s vitally important for the future of the species. I’m proud to say I am part of the programme.
“The idea was to see them through to adulthood before they are released as that will give them a much better chance of survival in the wild.
“They all look good and strong and will hopefully now go on to breed.
“People have asked us why we bother to go to such great lengths to conserve this species and my answer to that is if we don’t, then who will? We should care about all the different species around us.”
Fen raft spiders are one of only two British spiders that are 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 only found in three sites in Britain – in Norfolk, East Sussex and South Wales.
Chester Zoo is working with the government body Natural England, wildlife trusts, other zoos and the BBC Wildlife Fund in an attempt to boost their numbers in the wild.
And so the young spiders are now ready to be released into wild fenland habitats in Norfolk to begin their adult lives.