The following House Hold Spider Safari, was written by Pete Smithers for the Bug Club Newsletter during the time I was working for the BugClub. I am grateful that he has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here.
There are just over six hundred different sorts of spider in the British Isles. But of these only a handful are commonly found in houses. Spiders have a separate head and body which are joined by a narrow waist. Attached to the side of the head are eight legs which the spider uses for walking. At the front of the head are a pair of what appear to be small legs. These are called palps and are used to guide food to the spiderís mouth. The front of the head also has a group of six or eight eyes. On the underside of the body at the rear, are four or six small conical bumps or cylinders. These are the spinnerets from which the spider produces the silk to make its webs.
Telling male and female spiders apart is easily done by looking at their palps. Males have swollen ends to their palps which makes them look as if they are wearing boxing gloves, these are often strange shapes if looked at with a hand lens. Females have normal looking palps that are not swollen at the ends.
Spiders can be tricky to catch so before starting make sure that you have some small tubes to catch them in and a glass jar in which to observe them. The plastic tubes that 35mm films come in are ideal, especially the transparent ones.
A magnifying glass or hand lens is also useful for looking at the spiders once they have been caught. The time to hunt for spiders indoors is the evening and the best place to start is the cupboard under the stairs. Try any dark, out of the way place like behind sideboards or wardrobes, but be sure to check with your parents first. The best way is to wait for the spiders to come to you. Have a tube and jar ready all the time, then when a spider appears it can be caught and popped into the jar to be examined.
Having caught a spider go through the pictures until you find one that matches. Donít forget to let the spider go when you have finished looking at it.
Scot is about a centimetre long. His head and legs are brown but his body is covered in silky grey hairs. It is this furry appearance that gives him the name of the Mouse Spider. He spends the day hiding in nooks and crannies coming out at night to hunt for food. Scot will try to eat anything, but if he makes a mistakes and takes on something too big, he runs away frantically waving his spinnerets from side to side. This leaves a trail of silken threads in the air which trip up whoever is chasing him.
Amy lives in holes in walls but unlike Sue Segestria (see below) weaves an untidy mesh web around the entrance of her hole. Amyís webs are always very obvious as they have a blue tinge to them. The silk Amy uses is very different to that of other spiders in that each thread is composed of many fine strands. Insects that wander into Amyís web get these fine strands caught around the spines on their legs and become trapped. Amy then rushes out of her hole and whisks them inside to eat.
Simon grows to about half a centimetre long with a black and white striped body. He has the best eyesight of all spiders, as two of his eight eyes are enormous. Simon doesnít spin a web but wanders around looking for food. When he spots a possible meal he creeps up to it very slowly. When he is close enough he jumps through the air landing on his prey which he subdues with a quick bite. He can be found on sunny days walking over the garden fence or the outside wall of your house.
Sid is a small spider only half a centimetre long. He is yellow with black markings and unlike other spiders his head is nearly as big as his body. He spends the day hiding and comes out at night to search for food. If you are lucky enough to see him you will wonder how he manages to catch anything at all as he moves so slowly. When he spots something that could be lunch he creeps up on it and when he is close enough he spits a stream of sticky gum from his jaws. This flies through the air and lands over his lunch pinning it to the ground. Sid can then wander over and eat when he is ready.
Sue lives in holes in walls. Any wall will do as long as it has plenty of small holes. She sometimes wanders indoors when she is searching for a new home. You can always tell Sueís web as it looks like a silken star stuck to the wall. The rays of the star are really trip lines which tell Sue if dinner is passing by. If a passing insect touches one, Sue rushes to the entrance of her hole and checks which trip line was triggered. She then dashes out and grabs her dinner whisking it back inside in a flash.
Dona is a very striking spider over a centimetre long. Her legs can be orange or red, her head red or purple while the rest of her body is white. Her most distinctive feature is the enormous pair of jaws that stick out of the front of her head. Dona lurks in dark damp places where she feeds on woodlice which are her favourite food.
Phyliss grows to about a centimetre in length but her legs can be as much as four centimetres long. She makes her webs in the upper corners of rooms and behind cupboards. These are very untidy affairs but they are so fine that we donít notice them until they become covered in dust. If Phyliss is threatened by anything (i.e. you prodding her with a pencil) she spins her body round in a circle to frighten away the would be attacker. Sometimes she spins so fast that she becomes invisible.
Tim is the large brown hairy spider that runs across the floor on autumn evenings, or has to be removed from the bath by the first person up in the morning. Many people believe he comes up the plughole but this is not true. He just falls in during his night time wanderings. Due to the slippery sides of the bath he canít get out. Leave a towel over the side of the bath, then if Tim falls in he will be able to escape before anyone is up.
Stella grows to nearly a centimetre in length and is either entirely black or dark reddish brown. She spends the day hiding in a retreat at the edge of her web. At night she comes out and hangs upside down from the middle of it. The web is an untidy sheet of silk with a few vertical threads to support it. Stella tends to spin her web in out of the way places where she wonít be disturbed. When an insect blunders into her web she doesnít just rush out and bite it. Stella approaches her prey cautiously and using a special comb of bristles on her back legs throws a few strands of silk over it.She then backs off to let the insect become tangled in the threads. She does this several times until lunch is firmly wrapped. Once she is sure it is safe to approach she administers the fatal bite.
Oley is only two millimetres long so you will have to look carefully to find her. Having found a small spider it is easy to tell if its Oley or not as she is pink. She hides away in the daytime, coming out to hunt after dark. She has a habit of walking a few steps then running a few then walking a few more. This rather jerky pattern of movements make her easier to spot.
There are several other small spiders that are found in houses. These are usually money spiders which are difficult to tell apart without examining them under a microscope. For this reason they have been left out.
|Introduction||Spider Anatomy||The Silken Web|
|Feeding Ecology||Reproductive Ecology||Spiders and Man|
|The Fear of Spiders||Tarantula Myths||Spiders and Evolution|
|Caring for your Tarantula||A House-spider Safari||Bibliography and Reviews|