New Zealand is a great place to study spiders. It is home to more than 1100 species, with over 95 per cent of them unique to New Zealand. Arachnophobes beware, because some estimates suggest we could have approximately 3500 species of spiders here.
Spiders represent a disproportionately large number of the entomology-related questions we receive at Te Papa, so we've set up the spider web page to help people who want to know more about these creatures.
As spiders are soft bodied, our Spider Collection is primarily stored in ethanol. If we didn't preserve them this way, they would shrivel up and become unusable. We do have a number of dried or resin block mounted specimens on display in Mountains to Sea and NatureSpace, but these have undergone a special process called freeze drying. This allows the body of the spider to dry while still retaining its shape. Unfortunately this method of preservation means the spider becomes too brittle to handle for scientific study, the most common use for the majority of the collection.
Spiders in the collection range from tiny cobweb spiders (Theridiidae) at around 2mm long, right up to a Brazilian bird-eating spider with a 200mm leg span. The collection is also home to over 150 primary type specimens - the original specimens on which published descriptions of species are based - including the holotype for the Nelson cave spider, New Zealand's only protected species of spider.