Sunday, 22 March 2015

Garden Spiders

I am currently lucky(?) to have over fifty garden spiders (Araneus diadematus) in my bathroom, they have hatched out in the last week, and so I am taking the opportunity to gather together some pictures of garden spiders. Arachnophobes look away now!.

Well, they are rather small at present, but they will grow given time. Here are a group of the little spiderlings hanging out on my bathroom blind. It is a nuisance not being able to shut the blind. The lack of privacy might give a shock for my neighbours, so I will have to move them out to the garden soon!

garden spider,Araneus diadematus

I have previously posted a picture of spiderlings in the garden which I saw on 31st May last year. They cluster together in a tight ball. There must be well over a hundred. They look more cute than scary at this size.

garden spider,spiderlings,ball,Araneus diadematus

You might think that they would cluster together like that for defence. Actually if you get too close to the ball of spiders they scatter on single gossamer threads. After a while they go back together as a ball.

garden spider,spiderlings,scatter,Araneus diadematus

During the summer and autumn they build a new web each day. Garden spiders are ‘orb’ spiders and some have lovely markings. The ‘cross’ mark gives them their alternative common name ‘cross spider’. The legs are covered in sensitive hairs that lets them sense movement and also 'hear'.

garden spider,orb web,markings,Araneus diadematus

Here is another one which has less pronounced markings, they are fairly variable. They tend to hang upside down with the rear legs taking most of the weight.

garden spider,orb web,markings,Araneus diadematus

The point of the web is of course, to trap prey, and they can capture and eat small bees that are heavier than themselves.

garden spider,wrapping prey,bee victim,Araneus diadematus

The male is smaller and thinner. I am pretty sure this is the male of the species, it looks more red than the brown female. Perhaps it was the father of my brood. I am no spider expert, I may be can identify a dozen and yet there are 670 species in the UK. If you include mites and ticks that takes the total to over 3,000. If you want to know more about spiders, here is an excellent web site.

garden spider,male garden spider,Araneus diadematus

Anyway getting back to the point of this posting. I saw the large female come in through the window for a few nights. She then chose it as her spot to lay her eggs amid a silken cocoon on 25th October 2014. There is not enough food during winter so the adults do not survive, their offspring overwinter in egg form.

garden spider,nest,silk cocoon,Araneus diadematus

The cocoon hiding the eggs is quite large and the mother went down in volume by about 2/3. Perhaps the most incredible part is that once laid the mother will not move, defending them to the death, she starves or dies from lack of water. This I can vouch for as she did not move for several months. At the end of her vigil she did move, but only to hide behind the silken cocoon to die and give her offspring their first food. Life for garden spiders is a grizzly business. Male spiders are smaller and run the risk of being eaten by the females.

That takes me to the hatching of the spiderlings that took place over about four days. I spotted one or two (18th March) and then suddenly there are about fifty. Normally garden spiders hatch out in May, perhaps the warmer bathroom has fooled them into hatching earlier, there will be little in the way of insect food for them for quite some time. I carefully transferred them outside so at least they get a chance.

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