With multiple beady eyes, bristly legs and a reputation fuelled by popular culture, spiders are not everyone’s favourite creature. Arachnophobia aside, some of us find them wonderful to study. Often colourful, always acrobatic and their ability to spin silk makes them endlessly fascinating.
Many people’s experience is the gangly legged cellar spider that leaves those infuriating cobwebs in the corners of our homes or the large house spider, often males at this time of year with their boxing glove-like ‘pedipalps’, trying to clamber out of the bath. Unlike most invertebrates spiders often remain numerous in autumn and winter. Frosty meadows can be covered in a ghostly sea of gossamer, spun by a multitude of rappelling money spiders. The threads create the appearance of a shimmering silver net draped across a fallow field, a touch of beauty on a cold day.
My particular favourites to look out for this time of year are the orb spiders. Their webs are a familiar form; however the engineering skill exhibited by them is often barely visible in summer. Yet in winter, on a cool damp morning, they become a piece of artistry, spangled by necklaces of tiny droplets.
One of the most common is the garden orb spider, which has a white cross on the back of its abdomen; like most of the orb spiders, they are plump and uniquely marked. The four-spot, marbled and green orb are others that are easily identified, although there is a good selection of field guides available to help. If you are very lucky you may come across the magnificent wasp spider hanging patiently for its trap to be sprung.
Robert Morgan is NWT's Assistant Reserves Manager (Broads South)
Header image by David Savory