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Why our spiders are 'something to celebrate - not fear'

Rachel Shaw of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust writes about the positive side of spiders in this month's column.

Every autumn, spiders and their webs seem to appear from nowhere.

The truth is spiders live alongside us all year round and this is something to celebrate, not fear.

Giant house spider. Image by Dr Malcolm Storey.
Giant house spider. Image by Dr Malcolm Storey.

These amazing animals are a vital part of our ecosystems, feeding on an astounding number of insects.

It's estimated that across the world, spiders eat between 400 and 800 million tons of insects and other invertebrates a year. Many of the insects they eat are considered pests of food crops, garden plants and even people. So, having spiders around is a great natural alternative to pesticides.

Some spiders have found their perfect home in our houses. They hide behind furniture and hunt the other invertebrates that find their way inside, from house flies to wasps and mosquitoes.

Cellar Spider. Image by Brian Eversham.
Cellar Spider. Image by Brian Eversham.

Spiders tend to keep themselves to themselves, preferring dark corners where they can live in peace. But in late summer and early autumn some spiders become more active. This is when males reach maturity and seek out a female to woo.

The fear of spiders often comes from worries about being bitten, fuelled by urban legends and hyped-up headlines. In reality, very few spiders in the UK are even capable of biting a person, and the small number that can rarely do. So, the next time you spot a spider sheltering in the corner of a room, give it a wave and say keep up the good work!

Here are some of the spiders you might find in your home...

Mouse Spider. Image by Brian Eversham.
Mouse Spider. Image by Brian Eversham.

House spiders (Eratigena or Tegenaria species)

These are the familiar large, hairy spiders sometimes seen running across your floor at night. There are several different species of house spider, which are tricky to tell apart! They’re all large and brown with very long legs, and spin sheets of webs in out-of-the-way corners.

Cellar spider (Pholcus phalangioides)

These thin, gangly spiders are also likely to be familiar. Also known as daddy long-legs spiders, they often make webs in corners where walls meet the ceiling. They spend most of the day sat very still, but if disturbed they have two very different reactions. Some curl up into a ball and try to be invisible, but others vibrate in an attempt to frighten you off. They’re superb predators and eat other spiders, including their siblings!

Mouse spider (Scotophaeus blackwalli)

These spiders get their name from the covering of tiny grey hairs on their abdomen (the rear part of the body), which looks a bit like mouse fur. The front of their body and legs are browner. They’re often found in houses and gardens, where they hunt at night. Instead of making a web, they wander around looking for small insects to ambush.

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