Male Ladybird Spider (Eresus sandaliatus). Photo by Viridiflavus.
You have probably not even heard of the Ladybird Spider but this is hardly surprising because it is a very rare creature indeed. Named after the brightly-coloured beetle everyone knows, the male Ladybird Spider (Eresus sandaliatus) has a vivid orange-red back with four larger black dots and two smaller spots on it. If you saw one there wouldn’t be any chance of mistaking it for something else.
Well, actually there are many other species of spiders in the Eresus genus and several of these are known as Ladybird Spiders because of their colourful appearance. These spiders are collectively called “Velvet Spiders” because of the minute hairs that cover their bodies and legs.
In Britain the Ladybird Spider (E. sandaliatus) was so rare it was believed to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1980 in a small population in Dorset. The species is listed in the British Red Data Book as “Endangered” and is, not surprisingly, protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.
In 1993, it was thought that there were only around 50 individual Ladybird Spiders still surviving in the UK, and that they were dying out mostly because of habitat destruction. In 2000, however, there was some very good news because more than 600 separate Ladybird Spiders were counted, and this number has been increased since then to 1,000 spiders.
Since 2000, other colonies have been successfully created on the Dorset heaths which are the sort of habitat the Ladybird Spider needs. Captive bred specimens of this very rare and but distinctive spider were released bringing the number of populations in Dorset from just one to eight.
Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust
Buglife - the InvertebrateConservation Trust, has started an important campaign to help ensure the safety and future survival of this very attractive but endangered spider. The organization is collecting funds that will be spent on carrying on the captive breeding programme, establishing new populations of the Ladybird Spider, and monitoring the existing ones.
Buglife are accepting donations to assist in this vital conservation work but will reward those helping their efforts. All those people who donate over £20 we will be sent a special Ladybird Spider pin badge, as well as an electronic newsletter keeping them up to date on the progress of the project. Anyone who makes a generous donation of £1000 or more will receive an exclusive invitation to actually visit a site where you will be able to see the Ladybird Spider in its natural habitat.
Ladybird Spider lifecycle
The Ladybird Spider species sandaliatus is also found in Europe from southern Norway to the northern parts of Italy. They make their webs as tubes under the ground and mainly feed on small bettles and millipedes.
The smaller males become adults in early September, and overwinter in their webs. They emerge from hibernation in spring and search for females in May or June of the following year. As well as being larger in size the female Ladybird Spiders are different in appearance to the males because they are a jet-black colour all over. After mating, female Ladybird Spiders lay between 35-80 eggs. After these hatch out, the baby spiders are fed with a liquid from their mother’s mouth. The female then dies and the spiderlings feed on her body. They stay in her web until the next spring when they leave to go and make their own.
The very similar and closely related Ladybird Spider E. cinnaberinus is also known as E. niger, but the males only have the four black spots and are missing the smaller ones. It is found throughout Europe and as far as the North Africa and La Gomera in the Canary Islands. It lives in underground tube-webs too in small colonies like its cousin and is also very rare.
I am sure you will agree with me that these Ladybird Spiders are fascinating creatures. If you would like to do something to help their survival in future then please get in touch with Buglife.
Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.