Dear Readers, spider season is in full swing, and as I’ve noted previously, old-fashioned sash windows are a perfect habitat for spiders, particularly these Noble False Widows. On my spider group they’ve decided to drop the ‘false widow’ bit because people can be so freaked out – they’ve all heard of the black widow spider, which is quite a dangerous critter, though it doesn’t live in the UK. Judging by the abdomen I think this one might be a female and pregnant to boot, which will be exciting as this species can have up to 200 young. Females can live for up to five years, males rather less as they sometimes become a female’s post-coital dinner.
I can’t help feeling that there’s something rather poised and balletic about this spider, with the tips of her legs resting gently on her silken web, waiting for the vibrations that will tell her that dinner has arrived. She only makes an appearance as the sun goes down, and emerges tentatively – me stomping across the room and shoving a camera in her face was about as welcome as any paparazzo. But then she gradually emerged again. The patience of wild animals never ceases to move me – she will wait for days for a fly or (with any luck) a clothes moth, and gets all the fluid that she needs from her prey. I find myself watching her, and hoping that she will get lucky, while simultaneously wishing that her dinner will manage to avoid her fangs.
Outside a garden cross spider (Araneus diadematus) has made a web in the front window. It’s not often that I get this good a view of a spider’s underside.
One thing that really strikes me are the different-coloured bands on the spider’s legs (called annulations) – if you’d asked me I’d have said that they were black and white striped, but actually there are bands of grey and tan and russet too. This one is a female too – she doesn’t have the pedipalps, the little boxing-glove mouthparts that males have. On either side of the central brown stripe, just before the black area with the two white spots, there are two kidney-bean shaped areas. These are the book lungs, so-called because they are filled with thin sheets like the pages of a book – they are used to extract oxygen from the air so that the spider can breathe.
If you look very carefully, you can see, at the top of the photo, a little cloud of silk that has emerged from the spider’s spinnerets. She has spent all night making her web, but it seems to be pretty much unbesmirched by any insect prey. Overnight she will probably eat all the silk and then make a new, fresh web.
Although we associate these lovely orb webs with spiders, there are actually only four families of British spiders who make them, with all the rest having a wide range of hunting tactics, from hanging around in flowers to patrolling long grass or hanging around in sheds. Spiders really are the most fascinating of invertebrates, and I’m always very glad to give them house room. I guess I’ll have to have my windows cleaned at some point, but not just yet.