Meta bourneti - Nottinghamshire's Cave Spider
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In September 2009, we finally made the effort to see what is probably Nottinghamshire's largest species of spider. . The location of Meta bourneti had been well known to us for some time, but it is found in an inaccessible location at the best of times, despite being at one of the county's most visited attractions - the Sherwood Forest visitor centre.

The actual colony is underneath a concrete manhole cover, which houses electricity cables for the centre. Making it even more inaccessible, is the fact that the cover is half underneath a wooden fence and virtually covered by soil most of the time. Thousands of people must stand or walk on this manhole cover and be totally unaware of what is underneath.

 
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On the day, we just turned up and said "we had come to photograph your spiders". As usual, the visitor centre staff were all extremely helpful and a crowd soon developed as work began to clear the soil from the manhole cover. Within a short while, the cover was cleared and eased off, to reveal a spider which was much larger than we had anticipated. There were several mature adults, with one female having an eggsac. The adults moved very little once exposed to the light and seemed docile enough, but on removing the cover, numerous small spiderlings made their bid for freedom.
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  Meta bourneti is a very large and uncommon spider which is usually found in sites of complete darkness. It's fondness for caves has led to the common name of Cave Spider. Other sites where it can occur include the middle sections of long railway tunnels, cellars and ice houses. There are believed to be two sites where it occurs in Nottinghamshire, with one of these at the Sherwood Forest visitor centre.

Meta menardi is another Cave Spider, but the more common of the two and both species are extremely difficult to seperate. In size, M. bourneti is more than comparable to Tegenaria gigantea (the large house spider often found in the bath during the Autumn) and is probably slightly larger. Compare the size of the female against the bricks in the photograph below.

It was first discovered here by a British Arachnological Society survey team in 1978 and has remained ever since.

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The adults are repulsed by light, but spiderlings are attracted to it. This way, Meta bourneti is able to move to and colonise new sites.

The Sherwood colony is not often disturbed and so the spider's only means of spreading to new sites, must be either when the manhole cover is removed and the spiderlings can get out, or they use the two electrical conduit pipes present, to move to other locations in total darkness.

So far, it has not been found anywhere else at the visitor centre, but occasional specimens have been known to turn up on the walls of the visitor centre buildings. Whether this spider utilises the dead and decaying Oaks in Sherwood has never been confirmed that we know of. Possibly, such sites might be too dry, but it would be interesting to know if it is found underneath the nearby Church, or in the cellars of Edwinstowe's oldest buildings.

 
 
Meta bourneti revisited - April 2010

In mid-April 2010, we again checked on the colony at the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre, with Ranger Gary Joynt, volunteer Paul Sadler and numerous people who don't like spiders, but can't help but have a look. Four adults, at least three sub-adults and numerous very young spiderlings were present. The spiderlings were probably from the eggsac in the above photograph from September 2009. Many new photographs of this large spider were taken on this visit, including very small (2mm) spiderlings, sub-adults and the characteristic epigyne of the female.

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We were also fortunate enough to discover that their diet certainly consists of Pill Bugs, with an adult found eating one recently captured. We have so far been unable to trace any similar photograph on the internet, or any of spiderlings.
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