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Rare spider find in Northern Ireland reserve put down to climate change

By Linda Stewart

Published 16/04/2016

The heath comb-foot spider
The heath comb-foot spider
Peatlands Park, where the heath comb-foot spider was discovered

This tiny spider has been found in Northern Ireland for the first time - and our warming climate could be responsible.

In a training course that lasted less than an hour, a number of rare arachnids were found at Peatlands Park in Co Tyrone including this heath comb-foot spider, said Adam Mantell of Buglife.

It's the only occasion that the tiny eight-legged creature has been recorded this far north.

"I was shaking bits of heather into a white tray and looking at whatever invertebrates turned up," he said.

"I didn't recognise it immediately because it was so small. I took what I caught home and had a look under the microscope and was quite surprised with what I got.

"It's a tiny little thing, just over 2mm long, and it's got a quite distinctive broad white band across its abdomen.

"It's a bit of an unusual find - this spider is spotted more frequently in south east England, where it's a little bit warmer and drier.

"There are a few records from the Irish Midlands and Kilkenny, but I was surprised to see it at Peatlands Park - it's not where you'd expect to see it."

Adam said the discovery was probably a sign of a gradually warming climate.

"There are a number of species that look like they are shifting habitat further north and this may be another one," he said. "We're now finding the comma butterfly is being spotted quite regularly on the east coast of Ireland, so it's probably only a matter of time before it appears in Northern Ireland."

Peatlands Park is an area of bog, wetland and natural woodland south of Lough Neagh that is well known for its rich wildlife.

"I was very surprised to see so many rare spiders, especially this early in the year when many will still be tucked away for the winter," Adam added.

Buglife said the finds reinforced the need to protect our natural and cultural heritage by ensuring that the remaining areas of good quality natural habitats, especially wetlands, bogs and peatlands north and south of the border were properly protected from further damage. "It's indicative of the quality of habitats at Peatlands Park that we found so many rare and unusual things in such a short time," Adam said.

"It shows the importance of looking after these habitats, not only from a biodiversity point of view, but as great places for people to go as well.

"There is a lot of evidence that getting out into the wild is really good for people's health. Let's keep these habitats because they're great for wildlife and really good ways of improving people's lives.

"Peat habitats are a really important part of people's heritage but a lot of them are being destroyed, ending up in garden centres and going up power station chimneys.

"This is something we're going to regret in the future."

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