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A colony of Katipo spiders have been found at Baring Head reserve. It’s big news as the native spiders are vulnerable, declining, and haven’t been found in the Wellington region for some time. Francesca Emms asked spider man William Brockelsby about the discovery.

William Brockelsby. Photo by Joram Adams.

It all began on a very windy Sunday morning, ‘when I wasn’t really expecting to find anything!’ says William. He’d spent the previous night in the old lighthouse buildings at Baring Head with his girlfriend, French for Rabbits front-woman Brooke Singer, and Paula Warren, Friends of Baring Head trustee and ‘all round champion of the environment.’

William is on the committee of the recently relaunched Wellington branch of the Entomology Society of New Zealand. ‘We have big plans to grow interest and the study of bugs and other invertebrates across the city.’ One of these plans was a small field trip looking for Katipo out at remote, wild, and windy Baring Head reserve.

The Friends of Baring Head have restored the buildings out there, as well as undertaking weed control and planting alongside the Greater Wellington Regional Council. ‘I have done a few trips out that way for fun, and we had made vague plans to survey the coast for spiders while doing a bit of weeding. We had unconfirmed reports of them being there in the past but we weren’t sure where.’

Katipo spider found at Baring Head. Photo by Andrew Simpson.

The three sidled down the steep slopes to reach the southern coast, hoping to get out of the wind a bit, ‘futilely – when it’s windy there is no escape’. They turned over wood and poked around the dunes, finding many of the introduced spider Steatoda grossa. ‘A really bad sign as these spiders have replaced Katipo across their range and have been implicated in their decline.’ They moved along the beach and found ‘a nice dry dune with heaps of sand-binding plants above the high-tide line.’ And turning over wood there they found their first Katipo, and then a patch of female Katipo along a 20m stretch of the beach. ‘They seemed to really like the drier driftwood, which must provide some important habitat for them. Apparently they nest in the grass in other sites, but at Baring Head I am yet to see them in the grass there at all.’

They came back with some keen volunteers a couple of months later, and surveyed other areas of the beach for several hours. ‘We only found Katipo in that same one small stretch of beach as the first time, and heaps of the introduced spider everywhere else. It was pretty neat to find a previously unknown population in the Wellington area. I’ve been told they used to be common out Makara way in the ‘80s, so who knows whether there are other remnant populations in the Wellington. I am keen to try and find out.’

Read the full story in Capital issue #63 – available at good bookshops and supermarkets.

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