(Warning; if spiders put you in a spin, this article may not be for you!)
Thanks partly to their demonization at Halloween as hairy, scary little monsters, spiders often receive a bad press. Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth and here at the Heart of England Forest we love them because they help us keep the insect population in check. In fact, we like them so much we’ve prepared our Spider Spotter’s Guide to five species that you might see as you wander through the woodland;
Jumping spiders (Marpissa muscosa) are easily identified by their distinctive zebra-striped markings, the male spiders grow to around 6-8mm while the females are slightly larger. They don’t spin webs but jump on their unsuspecting prey instead. Look out for them on outer walls, under loose bark or on fence posts.
Money spiders (Erigone atra) are usually found hanging from a single long silk thread as they rely on gusts of wind to ‘parachute’ them to new locations. They spin a mat-like web a few centimetres over a hollow in the ground and hide to wait for the web to do its work. Legend has it that if one of these tiny spiders lands on you, you’ll be due a financial windfall sometime soon!
Garden spiders (Araneus diadematus) have a distinctive white cross on its abdomen, they are sometimes called Cross Spiders. At night, they spin orb-shaped webs that are rarely more than a few metres above ground and can be up to 40 centimetres in diameter. When the prey is snared, they administer a paralysing bite to ensure that they themselves are not stung or bitten. Whilst not harmful to humans, this bite can be a nuisance!
Crab spiders (Xysticus cristatus) don’t move much, lying in wait for their prey, but when they do they have a sideways motion like a crab- hence the name. You’ll have to look carefully for them as they deliberately inhabit backgrounds the same colour as they are so they are unseen while waiting for their prey. At this time of year you may find them blending into earth or withered leaves. The females are usually a light brown colour with side stripes on the abdomen, while the males are slightly darker with bolder markings.
Spotted wolf spiders (Pardosa amentata) is another type of spider that doesn’t weave a web but pounces on its prey. Look out for this handsome fellow running about on woodland paths and tracks, hunting for prey. With its brown body dappled with darker brown spots, the wolf spider relies heavily on its excellent eyesight to spot its next victim and even has an extra pair of eyes on top of its head to give it panoramic vision.
So, there you have it – the lowdown on some of the spiders you might see around the Heart of England Forest. See how many you can spot when you visit but you’ll need to be quick- they’re much more scared of you than you need to be of them, and if they’re moving fast it’s because they want to get away from possible danger!