Rare ladybird spiders released in Dorset

The creatures are black for most of their life but the males moult to red and black before they mate

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One of Britain's rarest spiders is being reintroduced at a nature reserve in Dorset.

Ladybird spiders were once feared to be extinct in the UK but recently numbers have been rising.

On Thursday, a new colony is being moved to a species-rich heathland reserve.

Conservationists have found that the best way to transfer them to their new home is to make temporary burrows for the spiders out of empty water bottles.

Ladybird spider in empty water bottle (Image: Ian Hughes) The plastic bottles make ideal temporary nests for the spiders

Ladybird spiders get their name from the bright red and black markings of the mature males. They are extremely rare and are also elusive, spending most of their lives underground.

According to the RSPB, in 1994 there was just one remaining colony in the UK. A web count in that colony found that only 56 individual spiders were left.

But over the past few years, conservation efforts have seen numbers increasing to more than 1,000. This has involved captive breeding, reintroduction and habitat restoration.

Even so, the spiders are still only found at a few sites in Dorset. And on Thursday, about 30 are being released at the RSPB's Arne reserve in the county.

The reserve is already home to 240 species of spider.

RSPB Arne warden Toby Branston said: "To be introducing such a rare new species here is very exciting, and I hope we can help spread it further."

The spiders were captured at another location and put into empty mineral water bottles that were filled with heather and moss. Researchers say the bottles are an ideal shape and size for the spiders to make their nests.

The team of conservationists will dig holes for the bottles at the reserve. It is hoped that the spiders will colonise the surrounding heathland.

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