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    Poison spiders invade Windsor Castle

June 18, 2001

by Peter Gruner and John Gubba

Windsor Castle was on red alert today after a colony of "mystery" spiders was found living underground.

World renowned entomologist Graham Smith was called in after British Telecom engineers discovered swarms of the giant venomous creatures on underground cables at Windsor Great Park, metres from the Queen Mother's weekend residence Royal Lodge.

Mr Smith, a member of the Project-ARK conservation team with a mission to save endangered species, said the creatures can attack and will not be repelled by conventional means. (continued)

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He believes the spiders, which have a leg-span of up to 9cm, may be a new species that must be preserved. "It's an extremely exciting find because they are probably a new species or a species that we thought had been extinct in this country for thousands of years," he said.

"Who knows how long these spiders have been in the royal park because they live under-ground. There could be literally thousands and thousands of them. It would be no surprise if they are living underneath Windsor Castle itself."

Mr Smith and fellow experts still need to find out how dangerous the spiders are to humans but great care is being taken not to get bitten.

"The species is certainly venomous and the jaws are strong enough to penetrate human skin," he said.

"It will take a few days before we can work out how dangerous they are."

The alarm was raised when a British Telecom engineer lifted a manhole to carry out maintenance work.

Royal park residents have been warned that the spiders should not be touched.

The creatures discovered so far have large fangs, hairy legs, an aggressive nature and a predominantly rusty red and black colouring.

"We've taken around a dozen samples so that we can make a positive identification and establish whether or not it is a new species. But we don't even know if they're fully grown," Mr Smith said.

"In the meantime, it is no good trying to fumigate the area. All that will do is force them out into a wider area. In any case they will probably be a protected species."

Mr Smith said: "It may take a couple of years to remove the spiders from the network of underground cables."

To track down the spiders in the underground labyrinth of tunnels, the Project-ARK team will use sophisticated electronic mole cameras, a device comparable to the endoscopes used on humans by doctors.

When the spiders are found they can then be enticed and captured, a lengthy process that may require strategic sites to be excavated depending on how far the spiders spread.

The team will spend the next few days observing their behavioural patterns.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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