Rare spider found in Loch Ness ‘lost world’

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Arachnid experts have hailed the ‘spectacular’ discovery of a rare high-altitude money spider in a mini-forest in the Great Glen.

The discovery of an adult male of the species Hilaira nubigena at Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston, a native forest restoration site, is the first record of the spider west of the Great Glen for more than 25 years.

The rare arachnid has been recorded from damp moorland above 400m and up to 700m, but little is known about its habits. It may be characteristic of high-altitude habitats such as ‘montane woodland’ – a waist-high mini-forest found on mountainsides, which is home to a unique range of species. Unfortunately this important habitat is overgrazed, and most of it has already disappeared in Scotland.

Edward Milner, who identified the spider and has been studying spiders in Scotland for over 20 years, said: ‘Some of the spider species that we find in the montane woodland on the estate are also found in the Arctic. They are adapted to surviving the extreme conditions that we can experience here.’

The few recent records of Hilaira nubigena in Scotland are all from south of the Great Glen, with a few records from mountains on the west coast. It has only been recorded from 14 sites throughout Scotland, including a recent one above 500m in the Carrifran Valley near Moffat.

Doug Gilbert, Trees for Life’s operations manager at Dundreggan, said: ‘Discovering another rare species in this corner of the Highlands highlights why it’s so important to protect and restore the Caledonian Forest, with its important but vanishing habitats like montane woodland.

‘We hope to carry out further work to find out more about the fascinating species living on Scotland’s highest hills. We’ve already recorded several interesting montane spiders at Dundreggan, and we suspect others are waiting to be found.’

The money spider family is a large group of small to minute spiders mostly under 5mm long. Their name comes from the folklore that it’s lucky to get one caught in your hair – and will bring you increased wealth.

The discovery of Hilaira nubigena and other montane spiders adds to Dundreggan’s reputation as a biodiversity-rich ‘lost world’. Of the more than 3,300 species already found on the estate, some were previously unknown in the UK or Scotland, or feared extinct. The site’s 11 UK biodiversity firsts are a non-biting midge, three sawflies, an aphid, two aphid parasitoids, three fungus gnats, and a mite.

Members of the public can volunteer to help plant trees at Dundreggan as part of Trees for Life’s award-winning restoration of the Caledonian Forest.