September 8, 2008

Kapito Spiders Nesting at Beaches

By DYKES, Mervyn

Beach strollers, if you come across a strange-looking object made from black, corrugated roofing material and labelled with red or yellow tags saying "Dept. of Conservation", leave it alone - there could be poisonous kapito spiders lurking beneath.

DOC has enlisted the help of 11 spider-friendly and committed volunteers to launch a year-long survey of red katipo spider populations.

Red katipo, or Latrodectus katipo, are endangered endemic widow spiders that were once abundant on the Wanganui-Manawatu coastline.

However, factors such as loss of habitat, the spread of introduced marram grass and damage to dune systems caused by farming and vehicle use has led to a population decline.

The strange-looking objects with the DOC label are known as Artificial Cover Objects (ACOs), which in everyday-speak translates to "nesting boxes".

ACOs have been placed at five beaches - Foxton, Himatangi, Tangimoana, Moana Roa (Scott's Ferry), and Koitiata (Turakina Beach).

Reports from the first checks suggest that the katipo are co- operating. Volunteers have positively identified katipo settling in three locations.

The project is under the direction of biodiversity ranger Lorraine Cook.

"While we know that the populations are declining, we're not sure how serious the problem is," she says.

"This trial survey will help us to determine if it is feasible to run a long-term study of katipo populations so that we can determine the most appropriate ways to conserve them."

Each month, a team of volunteers will locate and check the ACOs and record details about the inhabitants. Once the trial ends in July 2009, DOC will analyse the data and talk with volunteers to decide how to proceed.

The project is also a trial for long- term volunteer-led projects in the area. DOC community relations ranger Kelly Stratford co- ordinates this part of the project.

"A year is a long time for volunteers to commit to the project," she said. "We are very grateful as this work would not be done without them."


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