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Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
Venomous spiders nest near Queen's home
Windsor castle
Windsor Castle may be surrounded by deadly spiders
Nests of rare venomous spiders have been found near Windsor Castle and could be living underneath the royal estate itself.

A leading entomologist believes they may be a new species or a type of spider previously thought to have been extinct for thousands of years.

BT engineers uncovered the spiders last week when they were laying underground cables at Windsor Great Park in Berkshire.

The discovery of the rusty red and black spiders, with leg-spans of up to 9cm, is being described as "extremely exciting".


It would be no surprise if they are living underneath Windsor Castle itself

Graham Smith, Project-ARK
Graham Smith, a member of Project-ARK conservation team which aims to preserve endangered species, warned that the spiders could attack.

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

There are about 50,000 species of spider worldwide, only some of which are known to be poisonous.

'Could be thousands'

Until this week none of these were thought to be found in the UK.

Experts cannot tell how long the spiders had been in the Royal Park as they live underground.

Mr Smith said: "There could be thousands and thousands of them.

"It would be no surprise if they are living underneath Windsor Castle itself."

The spiders could not be repelled by conventional means as attempts to fumigate the species would run the risk of spreading them further afield.

Work stopped

It may even be illegal if they are found to be an endangered species.

A BT spokesman said: "Our engineers were not attacked, but we have stopped work at the site until we know exactly what they are."

Entomologists are examining samples of the spiders in an attempt to identify them.

The team of experts from Project-ARK will spend the next few days studying the behaviour of the spiders using electronic cameras.

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