Rare Highgate Cemetery spider ‘one of the largest in the UK’

09:13 20 January 2013

The orb weaver spider Meta bourneti was found in Highgate Cemetery. File picture: Wild London/PA Wire

The orb weaver spider Meta bourneti was found in Highgate Cemetery. File picture: Wild London/PA Wire

A large, rare spider has been recorded living in Victorian tombs in Highgate Cemetery, conservationists have revealed.

The discovery of the orb weaver spider Meta bourneti in the burial place of philosopher Karl Marx, poet Christina Rossetti and novelist George Eliot among others, is the first time the species has been recorded in London.

London Wildlife Trust found the population of the spider, which measures more than 30mm including its leg span, in the vaults of the Egyptian Avenue at the cemetery while conducting a bat survey.

Tony Canning, from London Wildlife Trust, said: “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.”

The find is notable because most new discoveries of spider populations are for tiny species, whereas this spider is among the largest found in the UK, the trust said.

Due to its origins as a cave-dwelling spider, the species requires total darkness, with even night time outside light levels too bright for it.

The sealed vaults, which have not been opened for several years, provide the perfect home for the spider, which also requires a constant temperature and damp conditions.

Elsewhere in the UK the species, which preys on small insects and woodlice, is found in sewers, old cellars and abandoned railway tunnels.

London Wildlife Trust said that, as the tombs where it was found date back to the 1830s, it is possible that the population of spiders have lived there undetected for at least 150 years.

And a relatively large number of individuals have been found, with initial estimates putting the number of adults at as many as 100. The trust said more research would now be carried out to assess the population.

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