COLUMN: Not so itsy bitsy spider this year


This week’s guest column comes from Dr Chris Andrews, from the RSPB.

If you look around the countryside at this time of year, one thing will often strike you. Where have all the spiders come from? And big ones at that. Great bulbous ones hanging from webs in bushes and trees. Or even larger ones, going scuttling across the floor, right in the middle of X Factor. It is enough to give arachnaphobes the heebie-jeebies.

Well, there are a couple of things at work here. Let’s start with the ones hanging in webs. These are members of the orb-weaver family of spiders. The most common one you are likely to meet is the ubiquitous garden spider, though there are numerous other different species. They are pretty much the stereotypical spider, spinning a web then sitting in it, waiting for an unwitting flying insect to blunder into it and be caught by the sticky threads. The spider will then approach, poison it with a bite, and then wrap it up in a shroud of silk, to eat later.

They also eat their own webs! Each night, they take their web apart and eat it, spinning a brand-new web the next morning, in just a few minutes.

So, why so many big ones? Well, for starters after the long summer the spiders have had a lot of nice flies to eat and so they have grown rather large. But also, the webs are showing up more now, as we start to get morning mists and dew to highlight the intricate designs.

If you visit your local nature reserve you can see some really nice webs alongside the paths. Perfect for that arty photograph.

Right, so that is those explained. But what about the ones that really get on people’s nerves? The big gangly ones that invade our houses.

Well, these are literally house spiders. Members of the family ‘tegenaria’, more properly known as ‘funnel-weavers’. Not to be confused with the Australian funnel web spiders.

They like sheltered spots, the insides of buildings really suit them. They lay sheets of webbing down, forming a funnel, and then sit at the top end. Any insect that falls over the sheet is then grabbed and eaten. Unlike with orb-weavers, the webs are kept and over time can become massive.

So, why are they appearing in our houses? Well, while they usually find our homes too busy and bustling, now is the time of year when male spiders go looking for love. Setting off on a quest, to find a lovely maiden to woo and raise a family with.

In this odyssey they end up exploring all possible places where a female might be, including our homes.

That terror sitting at the bottom of your bath is really just an unrequited Romeo, looking for his eight-legged Juliet! So go easy with the rolled up newspaper. And I say that as an arachnaphobe myself...