At this time of year spiders are a common sight in our gardens and homes. Andrew McCarthy takes a look at some of the varieties you might have seen in the last few days.
By the time this article goes to press, Autumn will be well and truly upon us. One of the most exciting things about this time of year for me - as a photographer and naturalist at least - is the very noticeable change in the type and abundance of insects which frequent our house and garden.
Most readers will be familiar with the onset of the daddy-long-legs season, but my particular interest from a photographic point of view is spiders, which become far more conspicuous (and photogenic) at this time of year.
Over the past few weeks, visitors to our house have had to negotiate their way around the intricate web of a large orb-weaver spider, which stretched almost four feet from the floor to part way across the front door! Sitting upside down in the centre of this extraordinary structure was the owner - a wonderfully patterned, very large female orb weaver, who kindly allowed me to photograph her at my leisure, since the front door is in an alcove, out of the wind and therefore not prone to the movement that even tiny gusts produce when webs are out in the open.
Orb Weaver Spider. Photo Credit: Andrew McCarthy
I was sad to see however that both spider and web had gone when I last looked; probably the victim of a strong gust of wind or possibly the attentions of a bird or bat, who would have been provided with a very easy meal.
Cross Spider. Photo Credit: Andrew McCarthy
Closer inspection of the garden at this time of year shows cobwebs of many more orb-weaver spiders, of various species. Webs are stretched across any suitable structure, including our outdoor furniture; this can cause no end of problems when tidying up the garden!
The dewy mornings which are so common at this time of year show such structures up really well, and on those rare days when we get some early sun, they are beautifully lit by the low rays.
Probably the most obvious species in our area at the moment is the garden spider (Araneus diadematus) which is sometimes called the cross-spider on account of the white cross-shaped markings on a disproportionately large, brown abdomen.
Yellow Orb Weaver Spider. Photo Credit: Andrew McCarthy
I have also on occasion been lucky enough to find the stunning Yellow orb-weaver (Areneus marmoreus var pyramidatus) in the garden in the past, but sadly I have not seen any thus far this year.
It is worth pointing out that these web spinning spiders, in addition to being rather beautiful, are harmless and indeed very helpful to gardeners, since they feed on small inspects including pests such as midges, blackflies, larger flies and mosquitoes. Prey are caught in the webs, before being wrapped in silk in order to immobilise them until they can be eaten at the spiders leisure.
Earlier in the article I mentioned that our ‘door warden’ orb-weaver may have been eaten by a bat. Some bat species, for example the Natterer’s bat, which occurs across the UK, is specialised to feed on spiders and similar inspects.
Bats such as this and the more common Brown long-eared bat, have evolved sophisticated hearing in addition to their ability to echolocate prey, and this, combined with the ability to fly very slowly gives them the ability to pluck spiders from the centre of a web or moths from leaves - all in complete darkness! Bats are great creatures and I will be writing a more detailed article about these fascinating nocturnal flying mammals in the next few weeks.