Large wolf spider found after being thought extinct in Britain

The great fox-spider had last been reported in 1999
wolf spider Look who's back! One of the great fox-spiders found in Surrey, England. (Mike Waite/Surrey Wildlife Fund)

After over two decades of being considered extinct there, the great fox-spider is back in Britain.

This noctural arachnid hadn't been seen in the UK since 1999, and many wildlife experts assumed the worst. But not all of them had given up hope, especially not Mike Waite. This program manager at the Surrey Wildlife Trust had been searching at night for two years. And his patience was finally rewarded!

This past October, Waite found several great fox-spiders, a species that belongs to the wolf spider family. He found them at a military base in Surrey in southern Britain. There were a few male spiders, one female, and a bunch of spiderlings, or babies.

Only comes out at night

wolf spider

It took two years of searching to find this rare spider species. (Mike Waite/Surrey Wildlife Fund)

So where was this particular wolf spider all this time? The great fox-spider was always going to be a challenge to locate for two reasons. It has excellent grey-brown camouflage, and it only comes out at night. This means that it would take a very determined investigator to find one.

Fortunately, that's exactly what Waite is!

“As soon as my torch (flashlight) fell on it I knew what it was," he told The Guardian. "I was elated."

Though well hidden and elusive, the spider is quite large at about five centimetres (two inches) long. It is a speedy hunter with excellent eyesight and a strong venom. It uses these abilities to hunt insects such as beetles and ants.

The great fox-spider is also listed as critically endangered worldwide, so this is a very welcome discovery. "It’s a gorgeous spider, if you’re into that kind of thing," Waite said. And we have to agree.

Welcome back, great fox-spider. Have a look for yourself in this video from the Surrey Wildlife Trust of images captured by Waite in the field.

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