Monday, May 27, 2024

Cave to close for spider giants

The Department of Conservation (DOC) has announced it will close a cave in the Ōparara Basin in Kahurangi National Park for a year to protect the rare spiders that live in it.

Crazy Paving Cave is home to the rare and unusual Nelson cave spider/Spelungulae cavernicola. With a leg span of 13cm and a 3cm long body it’s New Zealand’s largest spider.

Senior Biodiversity Ranger, Scott Freeman says surveys have shown spider egg sac numbers decreasing in the cave which may be due to the number of human visitors.

“The number of spiders seen have actually increased from about 2019 onwards, possibly due to a decrease in visitor numbers associated with COVID. However, only one egg sac has been seen since 2018,” said Mr Freeman.

“Breeding is the real long-term driver of the population so we want to close the cave to see if this will allow breeding to improve. Closing the cave means we can monitor the spider population’s response to the removal of human visitors.”

Nelson cave spiders are also found in Golden Bay. They are the only spider protected by the Wildlife Act 1953. They live near cave entrances rather than deep in caves and dine mostly on cave wētā finding their prey by vibration.

Nelson cave spider egg sac in Crazy Paving Cave (Photo: Richard Rossiter/DOC).

The young are born and raised in egg sacs which hang from the cave ceiling of the cave almost like small golf balls. Each sac can contain up to 50 small spiders.

Nelson cave spiders are thought to be directly descended from the earliest true spiders and may be the missing link between primitive spiders – from the time of Gondwana 350 million years ago – and modern spiders. 

Scientists have estimated that baby Nelson cave spiders take two to three years to mature. Most other spiders complete their entire life cycle in a year.

Crazy Paving Cave will close for visitors from today for 12 months.

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