Chris Baylis asked: “How long does the common garden spider live ” Most British spiders live for a year or so – if they don’t get eaten – though money spiders live much shorter, and other, more primitive species live for rather longer.
As for the common garden spider, Ian Dawson, Secretary of the British Arachnological Society, very kindly takes up the story: “Garden Spiders (Araneus diadematus) mostly pass the winter as eggs or as young still in the eggsac. They undergo most of their development from the following spring and die in late autumn when they are one year old or slightly less.
“Many wolf spiders and jumping spiders hatch in spring or early summer and survive to the following summer or autumn, i.e. a year and a half.”
House spiders such as Tegenaria and Pholcus can live 2-3 years provided they keep on their toes and avoid predators.
So what are the most common spiders in Britain
Craig Slawson, the British Arachnological Society’s webmaster, points out that “many spiders, including common ones, don’t have common names, so this will be a list of scientific (Latin) names.”
There are over 650 species of spider in Britain alone – upwards of 70,000 worldwide! – and 250 of them are teeny-weeny money spiders. Most of them keep very much to themselves and you won’t see them unless you seek them out.
Ian Dawson again: “The most numerous are undoubtedly some of our generalist money spiders (family Linyphiidae) such as Erigone atra, E. dentipalpis, Lepthyphantes tenuis, Bathyphantes gracilis, Oedothorax fuscus and O. retusus.”
Ian also refers to a provisional atlas showing the geographical distribution of British spiders. The five most widely spread across the country are, in order, Lepthyphantes tenuis (Linyphiidae, the money-spider family), Pardosa pullata (Lycosidae – wolf-spiders), Lepthyphantes zimmermanni (also Linyphiidae), Xysticus cristatus (Thomisidae – crab-spiders) and Erigone atra (Linyphiidae).
And Craig adds a list of the most common “House Spiders” (several unrelated groups): Tegenaria domestica, Tegenaria saeva, Tegenaria gigantea (=T.duellica), Amaurobius similis and Pholcus phalangioides (in the south only). These are the spiders we will probably actually see the most of.
And the largest
In Britain, the largest spider is the Cardinal spider, with a body up to 1 cm long and 12cm legs. The Goliath spider, as you might expect, can grow to over twice that size, but doesn’t live in Europe.
Anything to be afraid of
First things first: THERE ARE NO DEADLY SPIDERS NATIVE TO BRITAIN. (Sorry for shouting!) About 12 of them have a bite that can pierce human skin, but will cause no more than anxiety and the occasional allergic reaction. (That’s not to suggest that being bitten by a spider is ever fun, you understand. But it shouldn’t be deadly!)
Worldwide, there are no more than 24 species that can kill humans. A South American spider, Phoneutria fera, is thought to be the deadliest, pound for pound. Lucky for us, it lives in extremely remote areas.
Europe’s contribution, the black widow, is found in the hotter southern stretches of the Continent. Its bite can be lethal to young children and elderly people. The same people should try to avoid the bite of the water spider, also found in Europe, which can also be harmful.
What about tarantulas
Otherwise known as ‘bird-eating spiders’. The good news They live in South America. The bad news There are over 700 species of ’em!
It’s no fun being a male spider, is it
That old chestnut… Spiders mostly prey on insects, but it’s true that the females of many species eat the male after mating. His part of the reproduction process done, there’s nothing left but to offer nutrition to the expectant mother. It sounds tough, but in other species of spider, the young eat their mother after being born for exactly the same reason. It’s a dog-eat-dog world for the spider.
None of this happens so much in Britain, where the males of many species even manage to mate with several different females before dying of natual causes. In fact, the male and female of Dictyna spp. go so far as to share a retreat together for several months – one little happy family!
Several species of spiders prey on other spiders as part of the food chain, the most obvious being the Daddy Long-Legs. They’ll eat any kind of spider – even, if push comes to shove, each other!
Eeek! There’s a spider in the bath!
Have pity on this eight-legged friend – he’s fallen down the slippery sides of your bath in the night and can’t get out again. A towel draped over the side while you sit in the kitchen nursing a stiff brandy will give Spidey time to escape.
Do we really swallow spiders in our sleep
Happily, it turns out that this is an urban myth. It can happen, but it takes a pretty stupid spider to wander into an open mouth (spiders are scared of humans) and wait for a sleeping person to swallow.
Why are so many people scared of spiders
Arachnophobia is thought usually to stem rom childhood – suffering a (harmless) spider bite, seeing someone bitten, or repeatedly being warned of their dangers by adults. That’s the accepted view: it doesn’t take into account how little they are… how they move… quickly… and sideways… and then they look at you… and wait until dark… before crawling in your ear and… aaarrgHHHH!
- British Arachnological Society (thanks again to Ian and Craig)
- The Arachnology Home Page
- Spiders of North-West Europe(lots of good pictures!)
- An article on spiders’ webs
- a question on arachnophobia