Garden Wildlife Identifier: Spiders

Garden wildlife identifier: spiders

Get to know some of the UK's colourful arachnid inhabitants.

Most UK spiders have a one-year life cycle, overwintering as eggs hidden inside a silken igloo in a quiet nook, and hatching as tiny spiderlings in spring.

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By September, most have reached adulthood. All spiders hunt invertebrate prey and kill by injecting venom through hollow, hinged fangs. Despite the dramatic tabloid headlines, only a few have fangs strong enough to puncture human skin – so handle spiders carefully and respectfully, or not at all.

Most spiders produce silk from the tip of the abdomen, from silk-spinning organs called spinnerets. Not all spiders spin the distinctive circular orb webs you see bedewed on cold mornings. Other uses for the silk include trailing a safety abseil line in case of accidents, tying up prey, covering eggs and even wrapping up gifts for potential mates.

More garden wildlife identifiers:

Start identifying the spiders spotted in your garden with help from our guide, below.

Most spiders produce silk from the tip of the abdomen, from silk-spinning organs called spinnerets.

Woodlouse spider (Dysdera crocata)

Woodlouse spider (Dysdera crocata) illustration
Woodlouse spider (Dysdera crocata) illustration

Body (not including legs) 8-10mm long. Pale pink or olive-beige abdomen, red forebody and legs, and huge sharp fangs. Found under stones and logs, it preys mainly on woodlice, using its fangs to puncture from above and below, but will eat anything, even other spiders.


Garden spider (Araneus diadematus)

Garden spider (Araneus diadematus) illustration
Garden spider (Araneus diadematus) illustration

Body 10-20mm long. It comes in an array of different colour forms, but usually with black-barred legs and a cross-shaped array of white blobs (the ‘diadem’ of its name) on the abdomen. It spins large, round webs on herbage. Egg-loaded females are huge compared with males.


Wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi)

Wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi) illustration
Wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi) illustration

Body 12-25mm long, with black and yellow bars. It makes a small bed low in rough grass and decorates it with a pale fluffy zigzag of woolly silk down the centre. It preys on grasshoppers and bush crickets, and is found mostly in southern England.


Tube web spider (Segestria florentina)

Tube web spider (Segestria florentina) illustration
Tube web spider (Segestria florentina) illustration

Body 15-25mm long. Dull black with shining bottle-green chelicerae (fang bases). It hides in holes in walls, with radiating silk spokes that act as trip wires, then pounces on passing prey that touch the lines. Found in London and Bristol, mostly on old houses and garden walls.


Pale crab spider (Misumena vatia)

Pale crab spider (Misumena vatia) illustration
Pale crab spider (Misumena vatia) illustration

Female 8-10mm long. White, pale yellow or greenish body that is broad and slightly flattened. Its front two pairs of legs are very long. The male is much smaller, narrower and darker. It sits motionless, camouflaged in a matching flower, and snatches visiting fly prey.


Cucumber green spider (Araniella cucurbitina)

Cucumber green spider (Araniella cucurbitina) illustration
Cucumber green spider (Araniella cucurbitina) illustration

Body 3-7mm long. Reddish-yellow forebody and bulbous, emerald-green abdomen. It spins a tiny web across only one or two leaves in a bush or tree. It folds a leaf tightly before laying its eggs inside and covering them with a rough silk mess.


Water spider (Argyroneta aquatica)

Water spider (Argyroneta aquatica) illustration
Water spider (Argyroneta aquatica) illustration

Body 8-10mm long and dull greyish-brown. The UK’s only aquatic spider, it looks silver when submerged due to air bubbles trapped in its short body hair. It spins an underwater diving-bell nest, which it stocks with air.


Zebra spider (Salticus scenicus)

Zebra spider (Salticus scenicus) illustration
Zebra spider (Salticus scenicus) illustration

Body 5-7mm long, black with white or cream chevrons on the abdomen and speckled legs. Found on walls and fences, it has a jerky agile gait and jumps several times its body length onto prey. Its trails a silk safety line in case of rare misses and falls.


False widow spider (Steatoda grossa)

False widow spider (Steatoda grossa) illustration
False widow spider (Steatoda grossa) illustration

Body 6-9mm long, glossy black with pale markings, often like a fleur-de-lis on the abdomen. Hangs upside-down in a tangled web in sheds and animal hutches. Found mostly in southern England.


Many thanks to Chris Shields, for providing the beautiful illustrations used in this feature.

www.illustratedwildlife.com

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Giant house spider (Eratigena atrica)
Giant house spider (Eratigena atrica)

UK’s biggest spiders

  • Tube web spider
  • Great raft spider
  • Wasp spider
  • Labyrinth spider
  • Giant house spider
  • Cave spider