Pholcus phalangioides, woodcut by Matthew Herring © 2016

I’ve got interested in identifying spiders. I got myself a copy of a great book called Britain’s Spiders by Lawrence Bee, Geoff Oxford and Helen Smith with some birthday money and I’ve rarely been away from it for long. There’s something very fascinating about learning all the different types of something (plants, birds, spiders etc) and it opens up a door to noticing and appreciating a whole world which is right under your nose. My son Conrad (5) is also getting hooked and I’m pleased about that. He used to ask me to show him the spiders in the shed long before I bought the book. My daughter, on the other hand, has decided (and decided is the word) she’s scared of bugs in general. I was somewhat phobic about spiders as a child and I think this has fed my current fascination (I have the sense that that’s not an uncommon route into arachnology). My beginner efforts at spider identification are faltering, but here are some of the types Conrad and I have been appreciating. 

 

Zygiella x-notata (missing sector orb weaver) 

These small silvery grey coloured spiders commonly weave their webs on the frames of windows and there are dozens of them all round the outside of my house. They are sometimes known as missing sector orb weavers, because they leave a section of their webs without any of the spiral threads (the webs look like garden spider webs with, literally, a missing sector). A single thread leads up from the centre of the web outwards to where the spider is hiding. At night they come out and sit in the centres of their webs – I’ve been checking on them with a torch when I go out just after dark to put the ducks to bed. 

 

Steatoda bipunctata (false widow spider) 

I’ve found one of these under the overhang of the roof of the coal shed, the odd one out in a row of zygiellas. It also only comes out at night. The web it weaves is a random muddle of sticky threads and nothing like the neat zygiella webs – it’s like the house in the otherwise neatly kept street with the overgrown front garden and the guttering falling off. The spider is a small thing with a round, brownish waxy abdomen with four tiny indented dots on it.  

 

Clubiona comta (sac spider) 

Ioana found one of these in the washing basket. It is small, sandy brown and furry, like a tiny mouse. The spinnerets form a prominent cone on the tip of the abdomen (not visibly divided in two). We put it in an empty icecream tub and it started to make a little silk tent in the corner. I’m assuming the species is comta on the basis that it’s the most common (and it was small). 

 

Amaurobius sp (laceweb spider) 

I found one of these under the lid of my compost bin (along with a number of other spiders I couldn’t identify and a large house spider I managed to sit on and which I fed to the ducks). I think they’re very attractive: mostly dark brown but with yellowish/creamy markings on the abdomen. I’d probably have assumed they were immature house spiders without the book. They make an untidy lacy sort of web, as the name implies 

 

Pholcus phalangioides (daddy longlegs spider) 

I’ve appreciated these spindly little blighters for years and they are all over our house, but I recently learned they eat house spiders, which is hard to believe. They are so spindly that they are almost invisible. They live up in the corners of the room near the ceiling. I noticed some time ago that they jiggle rapidly if you disturb them, presumably to make themselves harder to catch. They’re like little oscillating atoms. I like the fact that they are usually upside down with their abdomens pointing upwards, like tiny jam jars. 

 

The image at the top of this post is a woodcut of a Pholcus I made during my residency at Top Shed, Norfolk, in 2016.

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