Garden spiders

Posted: Friday 27 September 2013
by Kate Bradbury

It’s garden spider time. Large, dew-covered webs hang between shrubs and paths in my garden, and fat mottled spiders sit on them, moodily waiting for prey.

It’s garden spider time. Large, dew-covered webs hang between shrubs and paths in my garden, and fat mottled spiders sit on them, moodily waiting for prey.

We only ever see them in autumn. Also known as the cross spider, Araneus diadematus ranges in colour from light yellow to dark grey, but always has mottled markings across its back, with five or more large white dots forming a cross.

It’s the female who spins and sits on the web. The smaller male only turns up to mate, cautiously approaching her in case he becomes her next victim.

She might appear to sit, lazily doing nothing all day, but the speed at which she pounces on her prey is incredible. I once threw a vine weevil into a web to see what would happen, assuming it would break free, as bumblebees often do. But it was no match for the spider, who sprang to life and had spun it into a tight silken cocoon within seconds. She returned an hour later to tuck in to her lunch. My fascination was slightly outweighed by guilt.

A couple of weeks ago I made a video of a garden spider retrieving a white butterfly from her web. I assumed she was taking it to eat but it looked more like she was using it to provide some shade from the sun. I wish I had been able to stay to watch her devour the butterfly – would she have eaten or discarded the wings?

There’s a reason why we rarely see garden spiders at any other time of year. After mating, the female builds a silken sac in which to lay her eggs and then spends the rest of her life looking after them. She dies in late autumn, and her spiderlings hatch out the following spring. Small and vulnerable, I expect they keep a low profile, hidden in log piles and beneath vegetation, only emerging in autumn when they’re fat enough to take on a butterfly.

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Talkback: Garden spiders
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oldchippy 02/10/2013 at 11:23

Halo Kate,yesterday while I was walking my dogs in the park I saw two old ladies picking up conkers, when I asked if they were collecting them for there grandchildren one said no if you put one in each corner of a room the smell keeps spiders away, mith or fact I'm not sure if it works!! Oldchippy.

waterbutts 02/10/2013 at 11:51

I've heard of that up here in the Peak District. I've never tried it because I quite like having the spiders in the house. They keep down the woodlice. And they give the cats something to play with during the night instead of waking us up for entertainment.

Dovefromabove 02/10/2013 at 11:55

The cats could play with the conkers 


Yes, I've heard of this - putting conkers under beds etc to keep spiders away.

Heather Michaels 02/10/2013 at 13:01

Apparently the conker thing does work! A friend of mine's mum has them around her house and says she never sees a spider. The lucky thing! I HATE spiders, but recognise that they have their place in the ecosystem and do have some uses (trapping and eating up more of the bugs that I don't like!!) so over the last couple of months I've been a big brave girl and tried to just ignore them (that is unless they drop on my head or run across my feet eek) but its situatio ridiculous at my house right now with spiders and I just can't cope with them any more. There are just simply too many in my porchway off of the garden (even though it has a door to shut out the outside world) and the front door to my house and the surround (bearing in mind I live in a house made of wood) are absolutely crawling with them. Huge great disgusting hairy long legged things. Urgh. Yuk. And I can be brave no more lol I just cant cope with that many and its difficult to keep them away cos there are so many that webs spring up over night in both places, attracting even more and I can't touch the spiders to move them so I can get rid of their lovely webby things! Am now resorting to conkers and some sort of spray which says it contains chestnut oil so I can hopefully get rid, clear down the webs and be spider free. Happy days lol Unapologetic wimpy type person when it comes to bugs, especially the eight legged variety!

Fairygirl 02/10/2013 at 13:21

I keep spotting them at night running across the floor. Don't bother me at all. Just pick them up and put them outside. Oldest daughter had one in her bedroom when she was small and used to have a little chat each day with it. For her 2nd birthday she asked if she could have a tarantula!

That's the trouble with encouraging them to talk.....

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