Dear Readers, in these troubled times it’s good to have a bit of good news, so here’s something that will please all but the most troubled of arachnophobes. This magnificent spider, known as the great fox-spider, was listed as Extremely Rare in my wonderful ‘Britain’s Spiders – A Field Guide’, and has not been seen since the 1990s. And what a fine beast it is! The female has a body length of 16mm which might not sound like much, but you only need to look at those fine hairy legs to see that this is a substantial creature, more than two inches wide.
The great fox spider is actually a wolf spider – these are creatures with excellent sight, as those big front-facing eyes would suggest. Wolf spiders are runners – they don’t make webs, but instead gallop like cheetahs across the sunny open spaces where you can often find them basking in the heat. Because they don’t spin webs, you will sometimes see them carrying them their egg cases on their backs, and when the young hatch they hitch a ride too.
The spider was discovered by Mike Waite of the Surrey Wildlife Trust, on a Ministry of Defence training ground in Surrey. He surveyed aerial photos of the site, and found some open dusty spaces, just the kind of places that the spiders like to hunt.He found some unidentified spiderlings, and I suspect he had a hunch that he’d found something exciting. At night, he visited the site with a torch (and hopefully with.a white flag in case of any random firing), and was ‘over the moon’ to find some adults.
Mike turned sixty this year, and describes his find as ‘the most important thing that I’ve done in a long career’. He also thinks that the spider might be much more widespread than people think – they live in coastal areas in the Netherlands, skittering across the dunes in pursuit of sandflies. ‘Have we been looking hard enough?’ Mike asks. Good question. But with lockdown fast approaching, it might be worth a good look if you live near enough to the beach to have a good look. There are more wonders around than you might think.