Waxcap, Whinchat, Wych elm – these were all worthy contenders for the letter W but my first ever Wasp spiders won the day!
Last week, entomologist Liam Olds made the stunning discovery of local populations of Wasp spiders, not once but twice, the first on 26 August at Porthkerry Country Park in Barry and the second the very next day at Grangemoor Park in Cardiff. Gangemoor is an easy walk for me and I’d never seen these spiders before so, of course, I went searching. Liam and fellow finder Christian Owen had located about 20 of these stunning spiders; I found seven, and was delighted to see so many.
As you can guess from its name, the Wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi) sports wasp-like back-and-yellow stripes on both its upper abdomen (photo above) and under side (below), presumably a clever attempt to fool potential predators into not eating it. In a manner similar to the Common garden spider, the Wasp spider constructs a large web, strung between the tall grasses of its favoured grass- and heath-lands, and sits in the middle awaiting its prey. There is one striking difference with the Wasp spider’s web though; it usually has a white zig-zag stripe running down through the middle. The purpose of this ‘stabilimentum’ is much debated, ranging from a form of camouflage to attracting prey by reflecting ultraviolet light, but it is certainly distinctive.
The Wasp spiders I saw were all females, as the male’s lifespan is short – if he doesn’t get eaten by the female after mating, he dies soon after serving his purpose. He is smaller and lacks the distinctive markings of the female – the UKSafari website has a photo of the male, and much interesting information about these intriguing spiders.
As you can see from the series of photos below, I was lucky to spot one Wasp spider wrapping up her recently caught lunch, an unlucky wasp. It’s a ‘Wasp eat wasp’ world out there, folks!