DZ wins gold!

We’re buzzing to conclude National Insect Week by discovering we’ve been recognised for our conservation work in saving the UK’s rarest and biggest arachnid!

p10102561Dudley Zoo was awarded gold in the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) 50th Anniversary awards for our project with the Fen raft spider, which began in 2011.

Working with nine other zoos around the UK, DZ co-ordinated the national programme which involved zoo keepers acting as foster parents to 2450 fen raft spiderlings for two months, feeding and caring for them until they were strong enough to be released into their natural habitat.

There are only three known populations in Norfolk, East Sussex and South Wales due to major losses to their wetland habitats. They’re listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN’s Red List and is one of only two spider species fully protected by UK law.

DZ Conservation Officer, Chris Leeson, pictured right, said: “We’re thrilled to be recognised by BIAZA for our work with fen rafts.

“Rearing them in captivity increases their slim survival chances in the wild to over 90 per cent, so without projects like this one, where we’ve been able to give the species a helping hand to repopulate and hopefully help secure its future, it would’ve been difficult for the arachnid to recover on its own.”

Here at DZ, former Presenter Caroline Howard – pictured below – played ‘mum’ to 400 1-2 week old babies, individually feeding each one fruit flies every few days, using a pooter to blow the food into the test tube for the spiderling.

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The spiders were then released back into the wild, where monitoring of their populations still continues.

Dr Kirsten Pullen, Director of BIAZA, said, “The standard of award submissions was incredibly high this year and I’m delighted that Dudley Zoo has achieved a Gold award for the BIAZA Fen raft spider project.”

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The Fen raft spider (Dolomedes plantarius) is an semi-aquatic species, hunting its prey on the surface of water.

They are typically black or brown in colouration with white stripes alongside their bodies. Adult females can span 70mm including their legs.

They will live for two and half years, feeding on aquatic invertebrates such as pond skaters, dragonfly larvae, small fish and smaller aquatic spiders

p10102561Two breeding attempts take place between July and September, with mating usually taking place early in the season, before the male dies shortly after.

The female will lay several hundred eggs in a silk sac, about 10mm across, which they carry under their bodies for around three weeks. During this time she will periodically dip the sac into water to prevent the eggs from drying out.

National Insect Week is a national campaign is organised by the Royal Entomological Society and runs from June 20 – 26.