This Garden spider (Araneus diadematus) was doing a spot of web maintenance as I passed by and I – rather fancifully, I admit – thought it looked just like it was playing a game of peek-a-boo.
On Friday I went for a wander around one of my favourite local haunts, Cosmeston Lakes Country Park and, while there, I set myself a little challenge. How many critters could I find in one small area, perhaps no more than 2 metres square?
My challenge wasn’t pre-planned: I had seen very little at this point on my walk and was thinking to myself that this was due to autumn and the cooler weather but, when I saw a Speckled wood butterfly at this particular spot – a bank covered with shrubs and small trees – I started wondering how much more there was that I simply wasn’t seeing. So, I stopped and looked harder. There was no poking under grasses or bushes, no sweeping or brushing to encourage movement, just focussing my eyes and ears to really see and hear.
There were, in fact, three Speckled woods – I just hadn’t noticed the other two, plus three different species of spider (the Garden spider was lunching on another critter but it was partly consumed and too tiny to identify), one hoverfly, three species of flies, a gall on Bramble that would’ve been home to the larvae of the tiny gall wasp Diastrophus rubi, and a leaf mine, made by the larva of some unidentified mini-beast. And I’m absolutely sure I didn’t spot everything!
I’ve got nothing against spiders: like all creatures they need to eat, but they can be rather cunning about how they ensnare their prey.
These Enoplognatha ovata, which come in several colourways, were taking advantage of the umbrella-shaped flowers of Wild carrot (Daucus carota) and Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), lurking under the canopy created by the flower stems then darting rapidly through the gaps to grab hoverflies and other mini-beasties while they were feeding. Very sneaky!
The weirdest thing I found when I was out square-bashing last week was this sputnik-shaped thing, stuck to the underside of an oak leaf. It was incredibly tiny, about 2mm across, and I had no idea what it might be.
Luckily, I belong to some really excellent wildlife groups on Facebook and, when I posted a photo on the Insects of Britain and Northern Europe page, I got an answer almost immediately. This is the egg sac of the spider Paidiscura pallens. At just 1.5mm, the spider is even smaller than its egg sac and, because of its tiny size, is rarely even noticed.
So, the next time I was out for a wander I decided to check the undersides of more leaves – they prefer stiff leaves, like oak, sycamore and holly – to see if I could find any others. And bingo, I quite quickly spotted three more egg sacs and their creators, sitting not far away on the leaves. So, next time you’re out for a walk, take a look under some leaves. You never know what you might find.
I don’t often share images of spiders because I don’t care for them much. I don’t mind large spiders because you can see them – most of the time you know exactly where they are. It’s the smaller spiders I don’t like, the ones that sneak around, hiding in dark corners or walking upside down on the bathroom ceiling, ready to abseil down when I’m having a shower. However, I know my feelings towards these mostly harmless little creatures are irrational so I’ve been making more of an effort lately to photograph them. And they can be really rather handsome.
Take this creature, for instance. This is the European garden spider, Araneus diadematus, also known as the Crowned orb weaver, the Diadem spider or the Cross spider. Although, as you can see from my photos, its colours are quite variable, the white markings on its abdomen form a distinctive cross pattern. And, although it’s called a garden spider, really much of Europe and North America is its garden. Also, from what I’ve seen of them, these spiders don’t try to hide – they sit quite blatantly in the centres of their webs, with that ‘I don’t know what you are. I don’t know what you want. But I will catch you. And I will suck the juices out of you’ kind of attitude!
Firstly, let me just confirm that I know spiders are not insects so this doesn’t really fit for National Insect Week but I don’t have a lot of images of foreign insects so we’re having International Scary Spider Day instead. Look away now if you don’t like spiders!
I’m not a big fan of spiders either, but somehow, some way, I’ve twice survived handling huge spiders. The first time was in Cambodia and the spider was a tarantula. The locals consider these a culinary delicacy and the one that sat on my hand was really being used as a ploy to lure tourists into buying the cooked produce. Despite being huge, this creature was delicate, and felt incredibly light and soft on my hand. And I survived!
My second encounter with a large arachnid was in northern Peru. The beastie was a Whip spider, or more correctly an Amblypygi. They look scary but rarely bite, though you could get some nasty puncture wounds from those pedipalps (the spiked pincers) if it grabbed you. And I survived! … But, spiderwoman I am not.