First sighting of tarantula relative in Yorkshire

A purse-web spider.  Pic: Graeme Lyons
A purse-web spider. Pic: Graeme Lyons
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The first confirmed Yorkshire record for the purse-web spider Atypus affinis has been found at the Brockadale Nature Reserve near Pontefract.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust said the species, which is a distant relative of the tarantula, has not previously been found in the county but was discovered by entomologist Dr Brian Eversham, who was visiting family in the area.

The purse-web spider spins silk tubes which it hides away in, with part of the tube exposed, the rest lying underground. When disturbed by prey walking past, the spider is alerted by the vibrations caused prompting it to stab through the tube and drag the prey inside to be eaten.

It was these silk tubes, which are unique to the species, that Dr Eversham discovered on the Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve in Little Smeaton.

Typically found in the south-west and with known locations in Essex and Wales, it is a surprising record this far north.

Phillip Whelpdale, wildlife data officer for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, said: “This is a very interesting record for the site and particularly exciting as it’s a first for Yorkshire. Whilst spiders are not everyone’s cup of tea, this harmless spider is actually quite remarkable living up to seven or eight years! It is difficult to see, spending most of its time in silk tubes, which the males leave a couple of times a year in search of a mate. However visitors to the site may come across the tubes – a sure sign that the spider has been there.”

Visitors to the site need not be afraid of the purse-web spider, despite its tarantula relatives, as this spider poses absolutely no risk to humans, Mr Whelpdale added.

Richard Wilson, Yorkshire Naturalist Union spider recorder confirmed that the record would be a first for Yorkshire.

And it is not the first unusual record for the site, as Brockadale Nature Reserve is also home to the tiny Truncatellina cylindrical – a snail which is only found in one other known location in England.