31/03/2020

Invertebrate of the Month: Desertas Wolf Spider

This month our star invertebrate is the critically endangered Desertas Wolf Spider!

Hi, I’m Diego the Desertas wolf spider and I’ve been living at Bristol Zoo Gardens for nearly two-and-a-half years.

Scientists don’t know a lot about us, as we’re a recent discovery. They know we can grow up to 40mm in body length, which is quite large for a wolf spider, and that we love to eat beetles and millipedes. They also know we sometimes like to take on bigger meals like juvenile lizards. We’ve told them about the big scary predators that like to eat us: like birds, mice and lizards, though there are so many things we are still keeping a secret.

My species only lives on Desertas Grande Island, Madeira, so we are pretty specialized. Given we are so unique, we are very sensitive to change and find it hard to survive if our environment alters.

In 1996 rabbits were removed from our homeland, meaning the grass the rabbits ate could reproduce and spread densely across the island at the expense of other native plants and animals. The grass covers the soil and rocks, making it hard for us to burrow and make our shelters, so our range across the island has decreased dramatically. We are now so rare that we have been listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

To help save my species, a breeding program at Bristol Zoo Gardens was started. My parents were brought across from Desertas Grande Island four years ago as young spiders, along with twenty-three others.

The spiders were bred and I was born along with lots and lots of brothers and sisters. My generation has also been bred so, if my parents were still alive, they’d be very proud grandparents.

Ten European zoos have received some of the spiders that have been bred, in order to increase captive population numbers.

Bristol Zoo Gardens hope to one day release members of the captive population back into the wild to increase the number of Desertas wolf spiders on Desertas Grande Island. I hope that day comes soon; I want to meet my cousins.

Bristol Zoo Gardens is also working towards restoring our habitat back home by clearing the grass that is in our favourite burrowing spots and reintroducing the native plant species that we know and love.

Thank you, Bristol Zoo Gardens!

To help support the continued success of the Zoo, and all of the society's breeding programmes, visit: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/covid19appeal

Blog post written by Laura Thomas, placement student in Bug World.

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