The trust’s Rachel Shaw writes a monthly column on wildlife.
Back in June, I saw a tight ball of tiny yellow and black spiders suspended in silk amongst the ivy leaves that cover my garden wall. These very small spiders are juveniles, they’re known as spiderlings. They clump together in these tight balls as a defensive mechanism against predators. At the slightest disturbance, the ball explodes and the spiderlings disperse in all directions. Even so only a few of the young spiders will make it to adulthood. The survivors are now very visible in my garden and across the countryside.
The ones in my garden were, appropriately, garden spiders. As adults they have white marks on their back that form a cross. The female spiders spin a new circular web every morning; after consuming the old web so that the proteins used to make the silk can be re-used. The spider then hangs upside-down in the centre waiting for prey to get entangled. In the early morning dew of autumn, the webs are easy to see. The males are smaller and will tentatively approach the females, taking care to avoid being mistaken for prey and eaten. This autumn, the females will lay hundreds of eggs that will hatch out into the tiny spiderlings next summer.
However much I enjoy watching the garden spiders and their beautiful webs, my favourite spider is actually one that doesn’t build a web. It’s the zebra spider and can also be seen in our gardens.
Zebra spiders are small, only about 6mm long, but they are distinctive with a black and white stripy pattern. They are from a group of spiders known as jumping spiders. They have fantastic eyesight and stalk their prey before leaping on it. Males attract females with a complex courtship dance, moving around the females with their legs waving in the air.
The other spider you are likely to spot in the autumn is the house spider. This is the large spider with the long hairy legs that runs across the carpet while you’re watching TV! Generally, it’s the males that we see. They are particularly prevalent in the autumn when they’re looking for females. The males stay with their chosen females for some weeks, mating numerous times until eventually they die, at which point they are eaten by their female!
If you are scared of the big hairy spiders, then you need a population of daddy long-legs spiders (which shouldn’t be confused with the daddy long-legs flies; that fly around in an almost haphazard manner with their long legs dandling beneath their bodies). Daddy long-legs spiders live in our houses and hang in loose webs. Whilst they might look a little bit creepy, they are great to have in our homes because they eat other invertebrates including the large house spider.