The Spider in the bath!

Steotoda sp. (?), 3 August 2011


Unlike ants, I cannot identify an exact moment of interest. I was scared of spiders when I was young, and it was partially to overcome this fear that I began to seek information about them. Web spiders, especially orb spiders (Aranea diademata) were relatively innocuous as they stayed in one place, but the hunting house spiders (Tegenaria sp.) were fearsome beasts, and many appeared to have enormous fangs (I now know these are the pedipalps of the male spider, and completely harmless). An early bite from a Dysdera crocata (a spider with a bright orange body) didn't help the phobia, even though the effect was much less dramatic than a gnat bite.


In adulthood a general interest in nature, accompanied by a six year stint volunteering with the BTCV (now the Trust for Conservation Volunteers), made me realise that spiders had a beauty of their own. It also made me realise that there was an incredible number of species even in one small hedgerow. Nowadays, a half-hour spider hunt which turns up less than six species is seen by me as a dismal failure.


One defining moment in my spider hunting was the day Mark took me into his garden in Australia, lifted a piece of eucalypt bark and revealed an enormous huntsman spider (a species of isopoda). The photo I took shows the fangs and eggsac (carried under the body), but the poor thing scooted off up the tree before I could get a good picture of the markings. Well, I could have been a kukaburra. Mark also showed me a lot of the giant ants of Australia, as well as many more spiders. I have made several trips to Australia over the past few years, and Mark has never failed to find new species for me to photograph.


A recent encounter with a Segestria florentina was a bit more dramatic than the D.crocata incident, but still nothing even close to debilitating. After cutting back some ivy it seems I carried the spider from the garden into the house, presumably on my clothing, and found I had been bitten several times on the leg as part of the process. I know this was the case because I later trapped the spider on the curtains in the living room, and put two and two together. The bites caused a small amount of ulceration and threw out a blood pressure test, scaring the nurse into thinking I was on the verge of an aneurism. Everything was back to normal in a week.


It's a lot harder to identify Australian spiders than British ones, partly because some of them haven't been named yet. I doubt that I have managed to photograph any species new to science, but I have definitely got some pictures that aren't described in any of my spider books!


Lydbrook, Forest of Dean, UK, July 1995.

The green orb-weaver, Araniella cucurbitana. Body length about 8mm. Female (?).

Stratford, London, UK, August 1998.

Araneus diadematus. Body length 12mm. Female.

This picture was used on my business cards for several years.

Frankston, Victoria, Oz, January 1994.

I originally identified this as Delena cancerides, but Dave Rowell of the Australian National University tells me it is a species of Isopoda: D.cancerides do not carry their eggsacs with them. Body length about 30mm. Because of the eggsac, obviously female.

Sydney Taronga Zoo, NSW, Oz, January 2001.

I think this is a Synalus angustus. Body length about 25mm. Female?

I love the shadow effect, which was completely unplanned.

Stratford, London, UK, July 1996.

From the eyes it's a wolf spider, from the legs it's probably Coelotes terrestris. Probably male. Body length 10mm.

Hayle, Cornwall, UK, September 1998.

Another Araneus diadematus, but note the different base colour and markings. Despite the scale difference, this body length is 12mm, similar to the Stratford specimen above.

Christmas Hills, Victoria, Oz, February 2001.

Argiope species, I think versicolor. Seen from underneath, so difficult to identify (but pretty!) Body length about 15mm.

Lullingstone Castle, Kent, UK, July 1996.

A wolf spider carrying her young. The spiderlings are hiding identifying marks, but I think it is Pardosa amentata. Body length about 10mm, but the spiderlings make this an estimate.

Taken at an animal sanctuary in St Erth, Cornwall, September 2002.

It is a Colombian Brown Velvet Tarantula (Pamphobeteus vespertinum), and those are my hands holding it! Body length about 50mm. These spiders are often found in petting zoos because they are placid and slow-moving. She just walked slowly and daintily onto my hands, stayed stock-still for the photos and then walked off again onto the keeper's hands. Philip took the photo, so this is not strictly one of mine.

Christmas Hills, Victoria, Oz, January 2001.

This is, I think, a Nephila ornata. It is one of the golden orb-weaving spiders, so-called because their web silk has a distinctly golden colour (not really visible against the yellow background). Body length about 20mm. This one had built a 1 metre-diameter web from rail to roof of the verandah, and it was fun standing behind it and watching all the blood-hungry flies getting trapped and killed. The two untidy strands at 1o'clock and 10 o'clock represent part of a well-stocked larder.

Cairns, Queensland, Oz, January 2001.

A spiny spider (Gasteracantha fornicata). Body is about 10mm from side to side. These spiders have hard, spiny skins, making them unpalatable to birds. Hence the standard black-and-yellow warning colours.

Stratford, London, UK, July 1996.

The Woodlouse Spider, Dysdera crocata – the same as the spider that bit me. Body length about 10mm.This one has a missing back leg, but the joints are designed to allow legs to break off for escape. They re-grow from the buds.

Lydbrook, Forest of Dean, May 1998.

The flower spider, Misumena vatia. This is a young specimen, body about 3mm length. These spiders have a limited ability to change colour, and can be white, light green, or yellow. They wait on flowers for pollinating insects to come to feed. Because of their traditional pose, with front legs spread wide, they are also called crab spiders.

Stratford, London, UK, July 1996.

The spitting spider, Scytodes thoracica. Body length about 6mm. These spiders catch their prey by spitting poisoned silk over them and, unusually, the silk comes from the front end and not the rear. Because of their markings they are also known as leopard spiders.

Stratford, London, UK, August 1998.

Body length 5mm. I had mistakenly identified this spider as a Segestria senoculata, but Niclas Fritzén of Helsinki, Finland has correctly identified it as a male Steatoda bipunctata. Thanks Niclas!