You will have been hard pushed this year not to notice the explosion in population and scale of these creatures. Few people like them, many are indifferent to them and most loathe them. However these incredible creatures are here to stay, and although you may not be glad about this, upon reflection we can see how they are actually pretty handy to have around. They are natural pest controllers and a vital part of your garden ecosystem.
There are roughly 40,000 species of spider worldwide, with all but 1 (yes just 1!) being carnivorous. The one species that is bringing hope to flies worldwide is Bagheera kiplingi , which feeds on specialized leaf tips from the Vachellia plant. This individual was only discovered in 2009. Perhaps we are seeing an overhaul in the ethical stance of spiders? It seems unlikely.
In the UK we have 650 species of spider, some of which you may have seen lurking in the recesses of your home. Although there has been a lot of scare mongering in the news lately, almost all of them are completely harmless. Only 12 of the 650 species have a bite strong enough to pierce a human’s skin, and out of those only 2-3 will actually cause any discomfort. The vast majority is content to sit in or around your house and eat whatever flies their way. Here are some common species of spider you may find around your home.
Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus)
You may have noticed these around your garden, outside your front door or across the paths around your house in the past few months. They are found usually in the summer/autumn months and are one of the largest species that you are likely to find in Britain. Combine this with overall increase in spider size due to the long summer we have had and you will have been hard pushed to miss them! But look closely and you will find that these giants are also responsible for some of the more intricate and beautiful webs of the spider world, as is typical of orb-weavers.
House spider Tegenaria gigantea/ Tegenaria saeva
Long legs. Large body. Hairy. Your typical ‘spider in the bath’ spider, it certainly is hard to warm to these unappealing arachnids. Both species are found across Britain, with areas of gigantea dominance, saeva dominance and habitat overlap. The former tends to reside predominantly in the Easternmost side of the country south of an arbitrary line east-west across the country from the top of Wales. The latter resides predominantly in Wales and the South West.
You will notice them around early autumn time when males go in search of females. It does seem odd to be searching for these females in the various porcelain fixtures around the houses in which they reside, but who are we to judge? Males and females stop growing over the winter months as food supplies dwindle and resume growth during the summer/autumn months. Females usually die before the winter of the year in which they have given birth.
Zebra spider (Salticus scenicus)
A type of jumping spider (eek!) these can be found both inside and outside your domicile, with black and white markings on their backs that lend themselves towards the zebra title. They have very good eyesight, perhaps the best of any arthropod, which they use to hunt with in place of the traditional web. This doesn’t mean they do not produce silk however, as they leave a ‘safety line’ behind them in case they fall. Very savvy! They have 4 forward facing eyes that give them unparalleled stereoscopic vision, with the others placed so that the spider can see around its entire body. If you notice one looking at you, you will find that it turns to follow your movements and keep you in its line of sight.
Money spiders (Linyphiidae)
With about 270 species in Britain, this family of spiders makes up about 41% of all the spider species found here. They tend to make snare webs, which consist of horizontal sheets and guide threads that deflect prey into the center of the web. However the name ‘money spider’ is where it really becomes scary. At certain times of year, these spiders use a technique known as ‘ballooning’ to move to new areas. They spin a thread of silk and then let go of whatever they are perched on and take to the air! Electrostatic charge keeps them in flight, allowing them to travel vast distances. The term money spider comes from when people would find these spiders in their hair, and believed it to be a sign that said person was about to come into money! Something worth going through? I’m not so sure…
Arkive.org, (2014). Zebra spider videos, photos and facts – Salticus scenicus | ARKive. [online] Available at: http://www.arkive.org/zebra-spider/salticus-scenicus/ [Accessed 19 Oct. 2014].
Bbc.co.uk, (2014). BBC Nature – Spiders videos, news and facts. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Spider [Accessed 18 Oct. 2014].
Langley, L. (2013). How Do Spiders Fly for Miles? Mystery Solved. [online] News Watch. Available at: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/09/27/how-do-spiders-fly-for-miles-mystery-solved/ [Accessed 19 Oct. 2014].
Meehan, C., Olson, E., Reudink, M., Kyser, T. and Curry, R. (2009). Herbivory in a spider through exploitation of an ant–plant mutualism. Current Biology, 19(19), pp.892–893.
Watson, L., and Dallwitz, M.J. 2003 onwards. The families of British spiders. Version: 4th January 2012. http://delta-intkey.com
Wiki.britishspiders.org.uk, (2014). Main Page – British Arachnological Society. [online] Available at: http://wiki.britishspiders.org.uk/index.php5?title=Main_Page [Accessed 19 Oct. 2014].
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