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British Spiders


In Britain there are over 650 species of spiders - most of these are small and secretive and consequently overlooked by the majority of people. There are however a number of more obvious spiders, often found in or near houses and gardens.

What is a Spider?

All spiders have the following characteristics:

  • Two body sections - the cephalothorax, where the eyes, jaws and legs are attached; and the abdomen, containing the digestive system, breathing apparatus and silk producing organs. Insects have three body sections.
  • Eight legs - consisting usually of five segments. The legs are hairy and covered to a greater or lesser extent by sensory hairs - trichobothria.
  • A pair of powerful jaws known as chelicerae - used for chewing up the prey prior to sucking up the liquid contents.
  • The ability to produce silk from special organs (spinnerets) at the rear of the abdomen - this silk is used for many purposes, the most familiar being to make webs, but also to protect the eggs. Different types of silk are produced depending on the requirement. Silk is immensely strong, weight for weight it is stronger than steel!

Any animal fulfilling all the above characters is a spider!

OK, now that's out of the way, let's have a look at some of the spiders we can find in the UK....

Araneus diadematus (female)

Araneus diadematus (male)

 

Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus)
The garden spider Araneus diadematus is one of our largest British spiders and a very common resident of gardens. It produces the traditional Orb web. It has a distinctive white "cross" mark on the abdomen which has given rise to the alternative names - cross spider and diadem spider. Colours vary from sandy brown to fox-red.

Size: Female to 18mm; Male to 9mm
Season: June to November
Range: Europe and much of Asia to Japan; also parts of North America

Four Spot Orb Weaver (Araneus quadratus)
This is another common orb-weaver, this one tends to hide in the low vegitation where it feeds mostly on jumping insects such as grasshoppers and crickets.

Size: Female to 20mm; Male to 9mm
Season: June to November
Range: Europe and much of Asia

 

Missing Sector Orb Weaver (Zygiella x-notata)
A relative of the garden spider is the "window spider or missing sector orb-weaver" Zygiella x-notata. This small spider also makes an orb web, but it predominantly chooses the corners of windows, rather than the garden herbage. The web is very characteristic, usually having a segment of the orb missing. It's other characteristic is that unlike most other British spiders, it is active in winter. This one is most frequently found in the corners of windows.

Size: Female to 9mm; Male to 6mm
Season: Females all year; males during summer
Range: Europe, Noth America and much of Asia ; also parts of Argentina and Chile

Zebra Spider (Salticus scenicus)

The zebra spider Salticus scenicus is a member of the jumping spiders Salticidae. The jumping spiders do not make a web, but are active hunters using well developed eyesight to find their prey which they then jump on to subdue. As with most spiders, jumping spiders have eight eyes, but in jumping spiders the front four are much larger than the rest and point forwards giving the animal stereo vision. Because of their good vision, a number of jumping spiders have courtship rituals involving the male waving brightly coloured palps to inform the female he wishes to mate.

The zebra spider is a common garden resident - often seen running and jumping across vertical walls. As it moves, it leaves a safety line of silk anchored to the wall in case it misses its footing.

I have witnessed these spiders jumping gaps ten times their body length!

 

Zebra Spider (Salticus scenicus)

Fence Post Jumper (Marpissa muscosa)



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House Spider (Tegeneria domestica)
Cobweb Spider (Tegeneria gigantea)
Cardinal Spider (Tegeneria parientina)
Yard Spider (Tegeneria agrestis)

The term "house spider" basically includes any spiders found in close association with human dwellings. However, there are a few very familiar house spiders from one genus: Tegenaria in the family Agelenidae. These large, long-legged, brown spiders produce a funnel-shaped web (hence the family name), but are not related to the dangerous funnel-web spiders of Australia. They usually build their webs in the cooler corners of cellars and outhouses, but in the mating season males wander about looking for a mate - this is when the house spiders are most noticeable - particularly those accidentally falling into the bath! Of the nine British species of Tegenaria, three are found regularly in houses in Staffordshire. T. domestica is the smallest species (6-10mm long) and often thought of as a "baby" house spider. T. saeva (illustrated above) and are very similar (10-16mm long) and only distinguishable under a microscope.

Another species often found in houses is Amaurobius similis. At first sight this looks like a Tegenaria, but it tends to have shorter legs. It isn't closely related to the other house spiders and uses a different method of catching its prey. Whilst Tegenaria uses sticky silk to trap food, Amaurobius uses "fluffy" silk which tangle in the hairs on its preys legs - this fluffy silk often looks much whiter than normal sticky silk.

 Hunting Spider (Pisaura mirabilis)

  Mouse Spider (Herphyllus blackwalli)
 Pink Prowler (Oonops domesticus)  
  Spitting Spider (Scytodes thoracica)
Wolf Spider (Alopescosa accentutata)  
  The money spiders Linyphiidae make up the bulk of the British fauna with over 270 species. However, the majority of these are under 5mm long and easily overlooked. Money spiders make sheet webs to catch their prey - these are horizontal sheets of silk with guide wire both above and below the web to deflect their prey into the web where the spider waits patiently. One of the larger money spiders found in the garden is Linyphia montana.  This makes its sheet webs in any herbage it can find in the garden, but the outsides of dense shrubs and dwarf conifers are particularly popular.

The spiders which originated the name "money spider" belong the the genus Erigone. Several of these are abundantly common in Britain. They use a method of dispersal called ballooning. The spider lets out a strand of silk into the air and wind resistance lift the spider into the air and it "flies". At certain times of the year many millions of money spiders use this to move to new areas. This is how spiders occasionally get caught in people's hair - it was thought when this happened the person would be coming into money - hence the name money spider!

Pholcus phalangoides


 
 

House Crab Spider (Philodromus dispar)


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