It's poisonous, but it's ours - DoC seeks aid for spider

By Simon Collins

The Conservation Department is worried about the future of New Zealand's most poisonous creature, the katipo spider.

It wants to hold public discussions on ways of protecting the endangered spider.

The department's Bay of Plenty Conservator, Henry Weston, says a katipo reserve or refuge could be considered on Matakana Island, where the venomous spider was found late last year.

Otago Museum insect specialist Brian Patrick, who did a national survey of the red-striped katipo for DoC in 2002, recommended a reserve in sand dunes behind Papamoa Beach.

He also proposed 18 other reserves covering the range of the red-striped katipo's surviving remnants, from Papamoa to Karitane Spit near Dunedin.

The katipo is listed as a threatened species because coastal development reduced the area of sand dunes, where the spider lives, by 70 per cent last century.

Mr Patrick says only a few thousand katipo are left in about 50 pockets in the North Island and eight in the South Island.

"It's the most poisonous thing in New Zealand, but it's now so rare," he said.

Yet in visits to 127 coastal sites from Northland to Otago, he found that the katipo was "a national icon".

"I saw T-shirts, I saw a shop called the Katipo Spider, I saw a web designer called Katipo.

"New Zealanders know this creature and they embrace it. They fear it a little bit, but that's not necessarily a bad thing - it gives respect."

The latest survey in the Bay of Plenty, by Tauranga DoC ranger John Heaphy, found what are likely to be black katipo in three mainland sites and on Matakana.

He found no sign of the red-striped katipo.

Mr Weston said the department could do little to protect the katipo at the mainland sites, and it was "a miracle" that the spider had hung on there at all.

But he said a reserve could be considered for Matakana Island.

Katipo spiders

New Zealand's only native poisonous spider.

Two species, the poisonous red-striped katipo and the non-human-biting black katipo.

Once found on sandy beaches and sand dunes from Northland to Greymouth and Otago.

Now restricted to 50 North Island and eight South Island sites.

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