Posted: Wednesday 25 February 2009
by Richard Jones

There's a spider the size of a gardening glove in my compost bin. It obviously gets a good living in there, feeding on the flies, woodlice, beetles and earwigs...

Tegenaria spiderThere's a spider the size of a gardening glove in my compost bin. It obviously gets a good living in there, feeding on the flies, woodlice, beetles and earwigs, the remains of which can be vaguely guessed in its untidy sheet of a web. I wouldn't be surprised if it bit the occasional mouse too. It's one of the 'house' spiders, Tegenaria species, that often roam about the home at night, ending up in that domestic pitfall trap, also called a bath.

Although they are common enough in houses, they are really spiders of hollow tree trunks, logs, root cavities, rock piles, caves and other small sheltered voids. Here they build a silken funnel that expands out into a tatty hammock, a bit like a threadbare handkerchief. The spider sits patiently in the funnel spout, front legs testing the vibrations passing from the outer webbing, ready to dash out to dispatch its unsuspecting prey.

The ones in the bath are usually males, victims of their own wanderlust as they wander looking for the more sedentary females. Good climbers they may be, but even their clawed feet are defeated by the shiny enamel. Leave a towel draped into the bath and they will, however, always find a way out.

Tegenaria spiderBut all the males are gone now. Unlike most UK spiders which have a one year life cycle, surviving the winter in the silk-cocooned egg stage, Tegenaria females can live for several years, a result of living in those sheltered voids and avoiding the extremes of wet and cold suffered by outdoor species.

I once very cavalierly picked up an equal giant brought to me by a small child. 'These don't bite' I announced, as it bit me. Unlike the woodlouse spider, Dysdera crocata, it didn't hurt. We could clearly see the fangs digging into the skin of my finger tips, but either they were not long enough to reach tender parts, or the spider's venom wasn't up to much.

Nice legs, though.

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Gardeners' World Web User 25/02/2009 at 16:31

That is very scary! I have to say, good for the garden or not, I am pleased that I have not come across one in my compost bin.

Gardeners' World Web User 25/02/2009 at 18:10

I have to admit i am not the greatest fan of spiders, ive actually never come into contact with a spider over the size of a couple of centimeters. I didnt realise they bite, even more of a reason for me to keep a distance. I was quite shocked I have to admit when I read your blog!

Gardeners' World Web User 25/02/2009 at 19:02

Huh, I'm glad to say I haven't come across any in my compost bins, although I regularly have them chasing me across the living room floor. Scary

Gardeners' World Web User 25/02/2009 at 19:54

Hee hee, I quite like the house spiders, although I have to admit to subtly lifting my feet onto the sofa if I see one scurrying across the floor! But then one of my cats will usually spot him and I then regain my courage and try to encourage the spider into a safe place (I'm sure my cats belong to a subspecies - maybe "Felis catus insectivorous"?!)

Gardeners' World Web User 25/02/2009 at 20:51

Reply to Jamie and others. Please do not worry about spiders biting you. First, all spiders bite. Second, all spiders are venomous — that is how they kill their invertebrate prey. But third and MOST IMPORTANTLY, only a handful of UK spider species have fangs large enough and long enough to bite through thick and tough human skin. Spiders will only try to bite if picked up between finger and thumb. But even then most just cannot get their jaws open wide enough. Its a bit like you trying to bite a chunk out of the floor. If you feel unhappy about letting a spider walk across your hands, use an upturned glass and a piece of card slipped under it. Let it go in the compost bin.

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