Spiders. Love them or hate them?

Autumn. The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and, for arachnophobes, a time of fear, when large, brown hairy spiders may be seen scuttling across the carpet, or lurking in the bottom of baths or sinks.  And it’s not just indoors – step into the garden on a dewy morning and there are cobwebs to be seen everywhere, draped between flower stalks and stretched across gateways and fence posts.

But should we hate them or, with a little bit more knowledge could we learn to love them, or at least become a little less fearful?

Kent is a relatively spider-rich county and over 70% of UK species can be found here.  They can occur anywhere, from the red and grey woodlouse spider that may turn up in a log pile, to the tiny, zebra spider with its wonderful black and white stripes which may well live in your fence posts, and which can jump up to 10cms high. We have a very rare spider that is found only on shingle habitats, and we even have a spider that lives underwater!

With knowledge comes appreciation. How would you feel if I told you jumping spiders dance to attract a female? And that male nursery-web spiders present the female with a gift as part of their courtship.

Now, a fly might not be everyone’s idea of a nice gift, no matter how nicely wrapped in silk, but the quickest way to a female spider’s heart is through her stomach (which is what the male is literally trying to avoid).  And what about wolf spider mothers who carry around their young, first as an egg sac attached to her abdomen and then as newborns clustered on her back.  If they get knocked off, she will spend hours wandering around collecting them up again.

Spiders also do a great deal of good by eating insects both in your home and garden, and money spiders, parachuting on threats of gossamer, are quite often the only predator found in the central portions of arable fields, where they consume aphids and other foes of the farmer.

The techniques they have evolved to catch their prey, range from the simple to the sublime.  One of the crab spiders has evolved to reflect ultra-violet light from its body to attract insects that it grabs with its large front legs, and can even change colour over a few days to match the flower it sits upon.  Even the familiar orb-webs we see in the countryside and garden are more complex than they appear, having been constructed from several different types of silk.

And as for those large, brown hairy spiders which cause most fear?  These are most likely to be the house spiders which, despite their name, more commonly live in garages, sheds and under shrubs in the garden.  Autumn is their breeding season, and at this time of year they will find their way indoors through windows and doors looking for somewhere dry to mate.  If you can be patient, numbers will have declined significantly by early November, but if you really still can’t bear the thought of sharing your home with a spider, consider adopting the following advice:

– Gently sweep it into a dustpan and lightly tap the pan to stop the spider from moving while you take it outside, or

– trap the spider under a glass and slide a piece of paper or card underneath, before releasing it outside, preferably somewhere under cover.

Adapted with permission from an article by Anne Waite, Wye Church Eco-congregation working group.


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