Insects & Spiders
This is another 'popular' group of animals; you either love them or hate them! Members of the Insect family typically have six legs and Spiders eight. Some can fly, some are vegetarians and some are parasites. They are the most numerous creatures on earth and there are probably millions of species that we are yet to discover and name!
These are very adaptable and successful insects. They can survive in very harsh environments and have a hard outer casing (exo-skeleton) that helps protect them. Some also produce a loud 'hissing' noise when threatened. They are happy to colonise human habitation if the conditions are suitable and are extremely difficult to control once established.
These small insects have a highly organised social way of life. They live in big colonies with special individuals performing specific jobs. Most of them, including the egg producing Queen, the workers and the soldiers are female. Males only hatch from specially produced eggs once a year and unlike the females, have wings that they use to fly off, find another Queen and start a new colony. The Queen only needs to mate once and will then produce fertile eggs for the rest of her life! Some ants catch other small insects as food but Leaf cutter Ants are actually farmers who grow a special fungus on pieces of leaves they collect. The fungi and not the leaves is the ant's food.
These leaf eating insects get their name from the way the camouflage themselves. By resembling sticks, twigs and leaves they make it very difficult for predators to spot them. They normally specialise in feeding from one particular plant and resemble that plant as closely as possible. Sometimes they even have spikes on their bodies to resemble the thorns on that plant.
We have managed to identify around 6,000 different species and sub-species of Millipede but experts estimate that there may be as many as 36,000! Although they are all generally called 'Millipedes', meaning: 'Thousand legs' they have far less. In fact most have between 19 and 375 pairs of legs! Found in the wild in almost every continent, the largest and most commonly seen in captivity is the African Black Millipede. This species can reach a length of over 25cms!
These are typically large hairy South American spiders. Their African and Asia equivalent are known as 'Baboon' spiders and unlike tarantulas these often have very toxic venom that can be fatal to humans. The most commonly known and recognisable large spider is the Mexican Red-kneed Tarantula. These friendly tarantulas are popular as pets as they are calm, slow moving and manageable. Unfortunately their popularity as pets had led to large numbers being collected from the wild. Recent legislation and controls on export and import has helped to preserve wild populations and this species is quite easy to breed in captivity, although feeding several hundred tiny hatchlings until they reach full size can be a full time job!
This is the family of spiders that builds a circular web of sticky threads across openings to help them catch winged insects. In the UK we have a number of different species including the large brightly coloured Wasp Spider. This has vivid yellow, white and black stripes horizontally across its abdomen and we frequently have members of the public bringing them in to us to identify as they cant believe that they are not exotic visitors!