Ladybird Spider Eresus sandaliatus, adult male placed on finger

Ladybird spiders at Arne

One of the UK’s rarest spiders is settling in to its new home in Dorset.

Meet the ladybird spider

The ladybird spider is possibly the UK’s most festive-looking arachnid. Never mind red-nosed reindeer and robin redbreasts; this brightly-coloured chap is our holiday hero.

The ladybird spider is so-called because of the males’ bright red body, which is covered in black spots. It was on the brink of extinction in the mid 1980s when a single colony of just seven individuals was left in the UK. Since then conservationists have been helping the species spread further afield.

In 2011, the ladybird spider was released into one of the most diverse insect and spider habitats in the country: the RSPB’s Arne reserve in Dorset. Surveys carried out this year show that the spiders are doing well and are now expanding outside of the original release areas.

Toby Branston, RSPB Dorset Reserve Ecology Manager, said: “It’s great to see this incredible little spider doing well in its new home. The hard work has started to pay off. Searches this year have found five new webs away from the release sites as well as others in their original ‘bottle-homes’. A great sign that the spiders are feeling settled here at Arne.”

During the original translocation, scientists used an ingenious low-tech method of transferring the spiders. They used empty plastic mineral water bottles which are an ideal shape and size for the spiders to make their nests in. The bottles were filled with heather and moss and captured spiders from the donor site were placed inside and monitored while they settled in and made a web. The bottles were then buried in holes in the ground so that the spiders could colonise the nearby area.

The RSPB reserve at Arne boasts more than 250 species of spider and hundreds of insect species including the threatened silver-studded blue butterfly, and the Purbeck mason wasp, which is only found in Dorset. As well as insects and spiders, this heathland is also home to smooth snakes, sand lizards, the Dartford warbler and the nightjar.