Rare Spiders Discovered at 150-Year-Old London Cemetery

First Posted: Jan 24, 2013 03:27 AM EST

A rare species of spider has been discovered taking shelter in the vaults of the Highgate Cemetery in north London.

The rare spider that has been recorded for the first time was spotted last December during a bat survey as part of the Wild London Inclusive London project held by staff at the London Wildlife Trust. Officials were working with the locals and staff of the Highgate Cemetery. A large population of these spiders was seen in the tombs of the Egyptian Avenue at the cemetery.

The newly discovered spider species is the Orb Weaver spider 'Meta bourneti'. It gains the title of being the biggest Orb Weaver in Britain.

The rare spiders, roughly estimated to be around 100 adults, were found on the land where notable people like George Eliot, Karl Marx and many more were buried. The origin of the spider was confirmed by Edward Milner, spider recorder at the London Natural History society. The wildlife staff predict that the spiders may be residing in these tombs undetected for at least 150 years.

Meta bourneti is a close relative to Meta Menadi that is also called as cave orbweaver or cave spider. The species dwell in dark places, as the adults are photophobic, whereas the young ones are attracted to light and this helps them explore new places to form their colonies. Frequently found in dark caves and railway tunnels, their prey list includes small insects and woodlice. The eggsacs that looks similar to a tear drop can be found suspended on a silk thread from the roof where they generally dwell.

"The discovery of this important spider population in the heart of London shows just how valuable cemeteries such as Highgate can be in providing refuges for wildlife," Tony Canning, the project lead and London Wildlife Trust Community Outreach Officer for Camden, said in a press statement.

Measuring around 30mm in diameter including the leg span, the Meta bourneti finds a sealed vault as a perfect breeding place because it requires constant temperature and high levels of humidity.

During this survey, the staff came across nearly 227 unrecorded species at the site on London's environmental records center, Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL).

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