'Tiny gem of a spider': Ultra-rare species encountered on beach
When Eleanor Morrison noticed some movement among the sand dunes on a rugged stretch of the United Kingdom's coast, she thought it was "unusual" but she had no idea she was about to encounter one of the world's rarest animals.
The 23-year-old National Trust worker was carrying out conservation work at Brancaster Beach, in north Norfolk, on May 5 when she spied something in her peripheral vision.
She wandered over and spotted a tiny spider "around 5mm" in length.
READ MORE: Gold prospector scoops up venomous animal in 'stupidly remote' bush
Snapping photos, she later identified it as a sand running spider, an extremely rare species.
"I had a strong feeling that this spider was unusual, as it was completely unfamiliar," Morrison told 9news.com.au.
"It had a similar body shape to some of the more common crab spider species that I have encountered, but this spider immediately struck me as unique.
"It was extremely fast-moving with long legs, which allow it to navigate its challenging sandy habitat."
Sand running spiders have only been sighted 117 times in the UK since records began in 1899.
Morrison said the encounter "was truly memorable".
READ MORE: What to do if you encounter a deadly snake, spider or jellyfish
"Observing a tiny gem of a spider in one of my favourite places in the world, whilst feeling the sun on my skin and hearing the serenades of skylarks and seabirds, was the most perfect experience I could ask for," she said.
"I was so excited to have the opportunity to share this wonderful, threatened, and little-known species."
The species lives in sand dunes across Europe and are hunting spiders, meaning they ambush prey at speed rather than make webs.
They reach lengths of just 4mm to 6mm.
READ MORE: 'There's something down there': Sailor's boat 'attacked' by apex predator
Sightings of the unusual creature could become even rarer, as it's been classed a priority species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
"The sand running spider has declined by 60 per cent due to disturbance and habitat loss," Morrison said.
The animal lover added she is always on the lookout for interesting creatures and hopes to one day visit Australia.
"Once you get into the habit of looking for tiny creatures, it becomes second nature to search for them," she said.
"(But) my favourite animals in the world are the bitterns, a group of mysterious birds in the heron family.
"My lifelong goal is to see every species of bittern in the world; two species occur in Australia, including the iconic and threatened Australian bittern."
Sign up here to receive our daily newsletters and breaking news alerts, sent straight to your inbox.