Chester Zoo is celebrating a momentous – and somewhat scary – world first.
A clutch of about 200 rare and unusual tarantulas has hatched at the zoo, though arachnophobes need not worry as the tiny creatures could not be in safer hands.
Invertebrate keepers at the zoo are the first in the world to successfully breed the Montserrat tarantulas, marking a crucial step towards discovering more about the mysterious species.
Native to the Caribbean island of Montserrat, very little information is known about the tarantulas and how they live.
But now, new behavioural observations, made for the first time by experts at the zoo, have revealed crucial insights about the tarantulas which, prior to their breeding, had never before been seen in zoos or in the wild.
Curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates at Chester Zoo, Dr Gerardo Garcia, said: “Breeding these tarantulas is a huge achievement for the team as very little is known about them. It’s taken a lot of patience and care to reach this point.
“The data we’ve been able to gather and knowledge we’ve developed over the last three years since the adults first arrived has led us to this first ever successful, recorded breeding and hopefully these tiny tarantulas will uncover more secrets about the behaviour, reproduction and life cycle of the species.
“We know that males have a very short life span when compared with females and gauging their sexual maturity to select the best possible time to put them together for mating, is vital to the breeding process.”
Dr Garcia added: “It’s successes like this which really highlight the work that zoos are doing behind-the-scenes to conserve a range of endangered species, including the smaller, less known species that contribute to the world’s biodiversity.
“Importantly, the skills and techniques the team has developed with this new breeding success will now be transferred to other threatened species.”
Montserrat tarantulas were first formally described by science from a single male over 100 years ago. Since then, a team of researchers have observed the tarantula as a prey item for another threatened species from the island, the mountain chicken frog.