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Zookeepers play nursemaid to hundreds of baby Monserrat tarantulas

The mysterious Montserrat tarantulas were bred in captivity for the first time at the Chester Zoo in England.

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About 200 Montserrat tarantulas have hatched at Chester Zoo – the first time the rare spider has been bred in captivity. Jane Witherspoon reports

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Montserrat tarantulas have been bred in captivity for the first time at the Chester Zoo in England. About 200 of the tiny arthropods hatched a few days ago, three years after scientists brought a dozen of the critters from the Caribbean island of Montserrat.

Now, say scientists, they can study the mysterious critters for the first time.

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"Breeding these tarantulas is a huge achievement for the team as very little is known about them," Chester Zoo's curator of lower vertebrates, Gerardo Garcia, said in a statement. "It’s taken a lot of patience and care to reach this point."

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This species of tarantula has been described by science based on a single, male specimen collected 100 years ago. Now Dr. Garcia and colleagues are working to describe the female.

What they already know is that male Montserrat tarantulas live for about 2.5 years, while females live much longer.

Bringing the two genders together for mating was a sensitive affair, as the process is dangerous for the males, who can die after the encounter.

"The female can take it as a prey, rather than a partner," Garcia told the BBC. "There were a lot of sweaty moments."

After a long and successful courtship, three female tarantulas became pregnant, then disappeared.

"They literally dig a burrow in the ground, and they're gone," said Garcia. "They don't feed, they don't show up, we don't know what's going on. You just have to leave it for several months and see what happens."

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Then, tiny spiderlings started to appear from below the earth. The scientists are keeping the babies in individual pots, feeding them with small flies for now. Eventually, they’ll get to eat crickets. After they mature for a year or two, the adult spiders will also be bred. For now, there are no male adults left in the colony.