All you ever wanted to know about spiders

A lovely garden orb spider. Photo: Chris Maguire.

A lovely garden orb spider. Photo: Chris Maguire.

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Rachel Shaw of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust focuses on spiders found around our homes.

Garden spiders rebuild their webs every day as they are easily damaged as trapped insects struggle, by the wind or other items catching them or walking into them. A nice new web increases their chances of catching prey. Nothing goes to waste; the spider will eat the old web, re-using the proteins that are in the silk. The spider in my porch is still small; its body is about 5mm but if it survives, it could grow at least twice as big.

With their beautiful but deadly webs, it’s easy to think of spiders as predators but spiders can also be prey. The spider in my porch is perhaps safer than in the garden where a male house sparrow has been visiting. On two separate occasions, I’ve witnessed him flying – almost hovering – in front of a spider’s web and attempting to pluck the spider from the centre. The first time he missed and the spider scurried to safety. When the spider returned to sit at the centre of her web, the sparrow got his meal. I saw the sparrow again later, picking another spider from its web.

At this time of year, the garden seems alive with spiders. One that I always keep a look out for is the zebra spider. As the name suggests it has black and white stripes like a zebra but it behaves more like a big cat – stalking its prey before pouncing on it rather than making a web.

Most feared of those that take up residence in our homes is probably the house spider. These are the large hairy spiders that run across the floor and get stuck in the bath. They are usually most active in late summer and early autumn when the males are out and about looking for females (after mating, the male dies and is eaten by the female – his nutrients contributing to the development of his young!)

Then there is the daddy long-legs spider that usually hangs upside down from the ceiling or in a corner of the bathroom (not to be confused with the daddy long-legs fly also known as a crane-fly, which is equally gangly-legged but also flies, often bumbling into lights at night). I’m happy to have these in my home as they do a useful job feasting on midges and mosquitoes.