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Spot a spider

  • January 05, 2021

The British Arachnological Society (BAS) set a Twitter Christmas challenge to spend a few minutes each day for 12 days looking for spiders. Here's how I got on...

I've been going out with the camera looking for bugs for a few months now and in that time, I've spotted plenty of spiders. However, venturing out looking specifically for spiders is something I've never done. The goal of this challenge was to show that even in the coldest of months spiders are active and all around us. Therefore, rather than heading off to the usual nature parks and woodlands I spent a little time each day looking around the home and garden. I discovered and became familiar with several spiders and with the help of BAS was able to identify them and learn a little about their behaviours. So let's take a look at what I found.

The challenge started on Christmas day and I decided to go for a walk around the reservoir at Worsbrough Mill. It was a bitterly cold day with snow in the air but that wasn't going to hold this Money Spider (Linyphiidae) back. They are active even with ice on the ground. Linyphiidae can be difficult to ID for just a photograph but this one is possibly a Walckenaeria species.

Money spider

Money spider

For day 2 of the challenge, I asked my daughter to help by keeping an eye out for spiders. She immediately pointed to the ceiling in her room where a "daddy long-legs" or Phlocus phalangioides was sitting. We also learned a new word - Synanthropic - meaning this is a spider that live alongside humans and benefit from their surroundings. The daddy long-legs spider, in the UK, is found almost exclusively in homes, sheds, garages and other built structures.

Daddy long legs

Daddy long legs

Daddy long legs

Daddy long legs

Many spiders are nocturnal (active at night) and so on day 2 I started to look around the garden after nightfall. When you shine a light on fences, sheds, windows, etc. you will be amazed how many spiders are sat out on webs. On this occasion they were all facing away, like this Missing-sector orbweb weaver (Zygiella x-notata). Fortunately, this species can be identified from this angle, which is known as the ventral view of the spider.

Missing-sector orbweb weaver

Missing-sector orbweb weaver

On day 3 I once again scouted the garden for spiders by nightfall. December is actually a great time for spider-watches because it's dark so early. I didn't have far to look for my first find - a Harvestman out for a walk on the side of the house. I remarked at the time that you don't see many Harvestman at this time of year but as the days went on, I would actually find quite a few from a variety of different species. Harvestman are not actually spiders they are a separate order of arachnid but are allowed all the same ;-).

Harvestman

Harvestman

Harvestman

Harvestman

On day 4 I looked past the regulars who were all out once again, but I spotted a small spider down at the bottom of the fence. Possibly a Noble false widow (Steatoda nobilis) and possibly a Money spider (Tenuiphantes) but hard to tell from this photo.

Money Spider

Money Spider

The fence-dwelling spiders have an annoying habit of facing away from the camera when resting on their webs. I had been trying to photograph this Walnut orb weaver for several evenings and finally on day 5 it was in a good position.

Walnut orb weaver

Walnut orb weaver

I also spotted a small Missing sector orbweb weaver (Zygiella x-notata) high up on the outside of a window frame. Close inspection revealed that it was closely guarding an egg sac.

Missing-sector orbweb weaver

Missing-sector orbweb weaver

Opposite the house we have an un-lit footpath lined with foliage and domestic garden fencing. It's a great location for spotting spiders and so on day 6 that's where I ventured. Here I spotted the largest spider I would see, a Giant House Spider (Eratigena). It really does look imposing sat out on it's web and casting a shadow on the wall behind. After getting this shot it very slowly crawled away behind its fence but I would return another night for a better look...

Giant house spider

Giant house spider

Returning to the same path on day 7 I spotted several spiders that looked to be from the same laceweb species (possibly Amaurobius similis or ferox).

Laceweb spider

Laceweb spider

Laceweb spider

Laceweb spider

Earlier that day I had been for a walk round a park near Sheffield and spotted several types of Harvestman.

Harvestman

Harvestman

Harvestman

Harvestman

Harvestman

Harvestman

Day 8 was the first day of the new year and I was interested what I might find in the garden during the day. We don't have a big garden and the main feature is a big trampoline but there are several conifers and a large laurel hedge. It was in one of the conifers that I found this tiny and very young crab spider (possibly Xysticus/Ozyptila species).

Crab spider

Crab spider

Crab spider

Crab spider

On day 9 I once again looked for a daytime garden spider and spotted this Running Crab spider (Philodromus species) on the garden table. It was a little apprehensive at first as I used a small stick to pop it on a leaf but it soon warmed to me.

Running crab spider

Running crab spider

Running crab spider

Running crab spider

Running crab spider

Running crab spider

I popped out to inspect the fence where I had become familiar with most of the regulars. However, on day 10 a new character was on the scene. This Laceweb spider was firing out several strands of fluffy silk, which harden in the air to form the web.

Laceweb spider

Laceweb spider

Laceweb spider

Laceweb spider

With the challenge almost over, I wanted to go back and get a better shot of the Eratigena from day 6. As I walked the dark path armed with torch and camera I spotted loads of spiders, mainly Laceweb spiders. Sure enough, the Eratigena was back in her usual spot and this time she was as bothered by light allowing me to get a few better shots.

Laceweb spider

Laceweb spider

Laceweb spider

Laceweb spider

Laceweb spider

Laceweb spider

Laceweb spider

Laceweb spider

Giant house spider

Giant house spider

Giant house spider

Giant house spider

Giant house spider

Giant house spider

Finally, on day 12 of the challenge, I took a walk around the garden to thank my (mostly) 8-legged friends for their patience and got a few final shots for the collection.

Crab spider

Crab spider

Crab spider

Crab spider

A massive thank you to The British Arachnological Society (BAS) for putting on this challenge and providing great insight on the ID and behaviour of our spiders. I really enjoyed getting out and finding spiders and it's something I will continue to do well beyond the timeframe of this challenge. My knowledge and understanding of spiders and ability to photograph them has come on leaps and bounds since day 1 and I can't wait to get out and learn some more!

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