British Columbia

B.C's spider hunters uncovering new high altitude species

A group of volunteer researchers are building a field guide to B.C.'s 1,000 discovered, and undiscovered, spiders for the Royal B.C. Museum.

Province is home to more than half of Canada's spider species

A group of B.C researchers are volunteering their time in search of what many people spend their summers trying to avoid — spiders.

B.C is home to more than half of Canada's spider species but so many are undiscovered, researchers say it's hard to nail down the numbers.

Most animals in British Columbia have been well documented and studied, especially mammals.

But arachnids, spiders and their kin, have not been thoroughly researched — especially at high elevations where just getting there is hard work, said renowned Canadian spider expert Robb Bennett.

"We have a 10-year plan to write a field guide for the spiders of British Columbia sponsored by the Royal British Columbia Museum," said Bennett.

Researchers scale mountains in search of new species

"Right now we are trying to fill knowledge gaps. The biggest knowledge gap is the high elevation sites throughout the province," said Bennett."

"We started in the south and we have covered the borderlands and most of the coast. We’ll be in the national parks for this year and next year."

Researcher Darren Copley is very comfortable with the common wolf spider. (Bob Keating/CBC)

To do that, he and two former students, Claudia and Darren Copley, climb high in the Purcell Mountains near Golden to look under rocks and boulders for undiscovered species.

Together, the trio has spent the past five years driving one end of the province to the other, slogging up mountains looking for spiders.   

"That's where we hope to find the most interesting species, undescribed species, species that have never been recorded before in Canada mostly because nobody has collected in these high-elevation habitats previously," said Bennett.

The trip this month had the crew scouring high elevations near Revelstoke, Golden, Cranbrook and Fernie.

"We flip about two tonnes of rock a day and look for spiders that are about two millimetres long," said Darren Copley with a laugh.

B.C. likely has 200 undiscovered spider species

The tiny spiders are spotted with expert eyes and sucked into clear glass tubes known as aspirators. They are then blown into alcohol to be identified later under a microscope.

"One of the really exciting things about what we do is spend the wintertime looking at them under microscopes and there are some beautiful spiders, just beautiful."

It’s not unusual for the group to each gather 500 spiders a day and uncover a half dozen new species.   

Bennett says there are almost 800 known spider species in B.C. and figures there's around 200 more out there to be discovered.    

With files from the CBC's Bob Keating