www.guardian.co.uk 22nd October 2010
Natural England is due to release thousands of hand-reared Fen Raft spiders, one of the most endangered species in Britain. Helen Smith, an ecologist working for the government body, brought up the 3,000 arachnids in test-tubes in her own kitchen and hand fed them flies. The spiders were cross-bred from the last two remaining populations in Sussex and Suffolk making them more genetically diverse than either of their parent groups. Fen Raft spiders get their name from their ability to walk on water in the fen environments they call home. They can grow up to 5cm and are known for their elaborate markings and courtship rituals. The release of the spiders is the culmination of five years work funded by the BBC Wildlife Fund. Despite the large number to be released into the wild, few of them will make it into adulthood. How many will survive will not be known until studies next summer.