The story of the Ladybird spider, one of the United Kingdom’s hidden treasures
The ladybird spider was thought to of been extinct in the UK for over approximately 70 years, until is was rediscovered in 1980. Since that time, no other populations have been discovered across their previously known range in northern Europe. The spider is revered to be the UK’s most festive-looking species. It has earned its pretty name because of its remarkable colourations which the males have very similarly to that of native ladybirds and not the invasive and more diverse harlequin.The species is so rare n the UK it has been classified as endangered. The only population is found in Dorset depending on lowland heathland. The issue with this is that the heathland they require has gone through drastic decline over the last 80 years or so due to heavy agriculture and forestry. The life-cycle of the spider, Eresus sandaliatus, is a long one with a very specialised life style and has weak colonisation abilities.
In 1980, the remaining site where the species was found, only supported a few individuals but through successful habitat management has resulted in a population boom which has reached to approximately 1000 individuals.
Since the year 2000, other colonies have been established. Spiders have been carefully released onto new sites as a attempt to boost population stability and populations from 1 to 8. In 2011, the spider was released into one of the most biologically diverse of insect and spider habitats in the country, the RSPBS’s Arne reserve in Dorset (RSPB, 2018). It is seeing some success in its new home following its introduction into this new area, Toby Branston, RSPB Dorset ecology manager said ‘’It’s great to see this incredible little spider doing well in its new home. The hard work is starting to pay off. Searches this year have found five new webs away from original release sits as well as others in their original ‘bottle homes’ which is a great sign they are settling well’’.
Those in charge of the project believe that at least 20 populations must be made to enforce stability. Using low tech transferring methods, they are steadily achieving this. Empty plastic mineral bottles which are in good condition for the spiders to make their webs in with heath added would encourage natural behaviour were buried into the ground of new sites to promote colonisation. As of 2018 they have been recorded to lay 50 eggs at any one time and there are currently 14 populations in Dorset.
There are other organisations and projects that are in place to help with the conservation efforts of this beautiful species such as Back from the brink project led by Buglife. The project aims to create 6 more populations to meet the stable population goal of 20 (buglife.org, 2018).
If you would like to get involved, the project is still coming up with ideas for how people can help the species. For more information please contact Caroline Kelly, Project officer at Caroline.Kelly@buglife.org.uk.
Image taken from https://www.buglife.org.uk/campaigns-and-our-work/ladybird-spider
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