Not many people would be able to control themselves if they were expecting to open a box full of small fluffy critters and instead found a gathering of large furry spiders. Fewer still would be excited about this plot twist – unless you’re conservationists in Australia, of course.
The not-for-profit organization buys and manages land across Australia in an attempt to conserve its unique landscape and species. One of these regions of restored habitat is the Monjebup North reserve in Western Australia. After decades of land cleared for farmland, the reservation is allowing the natural revegetation of native bushland, trees, shrubs, and animal life to flourish.
One of the animals returning to this habitat is the utterly adorable western pygmy possum – smaller than your hand, fluffy, all Disney eyes, and improbably long whiskers. Pygmy possums usually nest in the hollows of trees, but at seven years old, the restored habitat is still a bit too young to provide these just yet, so the organization gave the furry little bundles a helping hand in the form of wooden nest boxes, and they quickly took up residence.
When they went to check on the success of the nesting boxes, they discovered the possums weren't the only new residents to move in though.
When asked if anybody jumped on discovering the unexpected house guests, Sanders told IFLScience: "We certainly jump back a bit when we open a box seething with spiders, as they do run up your arm if you’re not quick enough!"
Huntsmans, like the possums, live in trees, under loose bark, and as the restored vegetation is too young for them as well, it appears they also liked the look of these snazzy new homes. Sanders explains that bark is in short supply in the restored habitat, so the wooden boxes looked suitable, and they were plenty big enough to bring the whole family. Contrary to what you might think, this is actually a good thing.
"Huntsman spiders being in the nest boxes does suggest improved ecosystem complexity, they feed on insects and other invertebrates and lay their egg sac inside the box," Sanders told IFLScience. "They would have been present in the larger remnant trees and logs in the paddocks and would have [eventually] moved into the revegetated areas as we restored the land."
"They quickly found the nest boxes and were recorded using them just months after first installing them."
Most spiders are solitary, but some species of huntsman spiders are more social creatures, sharing habitats and even working together to share resources. Scientists think this is a way for all of the spiders to benefit by living comfortably, sharing food, and possibly even safety in numbers.
The good news is that the habitat is clearly on its way back to restoration if huntsmans want to move in. This means food is plentiful, and the habitat is becoming strong enough to support many species up and down the food chain.
And the pygmy possums – which monitoring has shown are using the boxes regularly – don't seem too annoyed by their new neighbors, although perhaps not ready to join in the snuggle just yet. "We do find a single adult spider or two in the same box as a pygmy possum but haven’t found the possums in any of the boxes with lots of spiders," said Sanders.
[H/T: Science Alert]