Hundreds of tarantulas emerging from the ground might seem like the stuff of nightmares, but to scientists at the UK's Chester Zoo, it's a dream come true. About 200 baby Montserrat tarantulas recently hatched at the zoo, marking the first time the rare spiders have been bred in captivity. Few have ever spotted the tarantulas in the wild on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, reports Live Science. But in 2013, zoo curator Gerardo Garcia captured some of the hairy brown spiders—which reach up to 8 inches across in adulthood and don't bite—and took them to the zoo to be bred. That proved easier said than done as researchers soon discovered the males mature quickly and live for only two and a half years, reports the BBC.
Females live longer and mature more slowly, and can also see a male "as a prey, rather than a partner," says Garcia. "There were a lot of sweaty moments." Researchers witnessed courtship rituals in which a male drummed on a female's web, before three pregnant females vanished. "They literally dig a burrow in the ground," says Garcia. Several months later, "spiders started popping out of the earth like crazy. From one single burrow, one female, we had about 200 tarantulas." The successful breeding "is a huge achievement" as little is known about the tarantulas, which are a food source for the Caribbean's massive, yet critically endangered, mountain chicken frog, Garcia adds in a statement. (Hanging out with a tarantula could cure your spider phobia.)