COLUMN: The story behind our spiders

Photo by Neil Smith
Photo by Neil Smith

RPSB’s Dr Chris Andrews’ take on where our spiders are from and what they’e up to...

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.

Let’s start with the ones hanging in webs. These are members of the orb-weaver family. The most common one you are likely to meet is the garden spider, though there are others. They are pretty much the stereotypical spider, spinning a web then waiting for an unwitting flying insect to blunder in and be caught by the sticky threads. The spider will then approach, poison it with a bite, wrap it up in a shroud of silk and eat later. They also eat their own webs! The silk they use is pretty incredible stuff too. Weight for weight, it is stronger than steel.

So, why so many big ones? Well, for starters after the long summer the spiders have had a lot of 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 them. Hence we notice them more often. If you visit Frampton Marsh you can see some really nice webs alongside the paths. Perfect for that arty photograph.

But what about the ones that really get on people’s nerves? The big gangly ones that invade our houses.

These are literally house spiders. Members of the family ‘tegenaria’, properly known as ‘funnel-weavers’. They like to live in 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 in our houses? Well, whilst 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, which includes 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....