Webs of Intrigue
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A lot of people have emailed me recently because they've been surprised (horrified) at the number of big spiders they suddenly have in their gardens. One day there's none, and the next day there's hundreds. It's as if the spiders just suddenly arrived.
In fact they've been around all summer, feeding up on various creepy-crawlies in the garden. Now they're fully grown, their webs are larger, and the spiders are much more noticeable.
The warm summer we've had, and the abundance of flying insects should lead to some whopper spiders this year. It's been estimated that there could be in excess of 2 million spiders in an acre of rough grassland in autumn. My research hasn't stretched to counting them, but going by the number of webs that can be seen at the moment I'm inclined to agree.
Early morning is the best time to see (and photograph) the intricacy of these silvery, silk fly catchers when they hang heavy with sparkling dewdrops. I once watched a photographer dusting a spiders web with flour in order to make it show up in his picture. It did work, but that spider had to completely rebuild its web because it was no longer sticky enough to trap insects. A more spider-friendly approach is to spray the web with water using a plant mister. The water will just evapourate after you've taken your photo, allowing the spider to carry on trapping.
Many of the webs you see in the hedgerows are the work of Cross Spiders (Araneus diadematus), also known as Garden Spiders. They can be recognised by those white dots on their bulbous abdomens which form a cross-shaped marking.
Despite being one of our most common garden spiders they cause a lot of confusion. Each autumn I get a gazigabyte of emails asking questions like "1) does it bite", "2) is it dangerous", and the perennial favourite, "3) is it poisonous?" The answers of course are; 1) naturally, 2) yes if you're fly-shaped, and 3) only if you eat too many.
All spiders bite (just like humans). If they didn't bite they'd go hungry. But garden spiders won't bite people unless they're provoked or feel threatened or trapped. People who have experienced the bite say the vemon makes the area around the bite go red, feel tingly, numb and a bit itchy, but it's not life-threatening.
Back in the early seventies NASA sent a couple of garden spiders up into space to see if they could build one of their beautiful orb webs in zero gravity. They quickly adapted to their unusual environment, and incredibly, within two days built a perfectly symmetrical web. There's a photo of the spider web made in space here.
Note: If garden spider photos were legal tender then I'd be a rich man right now because I'm currently receiving about a zillion of them every week. Please no more... unless you've got a really exceptional one... like one with two heads... or a dayglow pink one (no trick shots please). ;)