Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Garden Spider

They are more often to be found on bushes in woods and heathland than in gardens but as they are big and common we often see them in gardens - as well as in Filnore Woods.  At this time of year they are at their biggest, and frequently sit boldly in the middle of their webs, so are easily spotted.
As well as 'Garden Spider', Araneus diadematus is known as the 'Cross Spider', not for its bad temper but because of the cross pattern on the back.  The background colour varies from dark brown to ginger.

If you see one now it is probably a female.  The males stop feeding when they are mature (physically if not mentally!) and spend their whole time looking for females to mate with.  On finding a likely lass, the male attaches a "courting thread" to the females web and strums it with spines on his leg.  This brings the female to the edge of the web.  Although courtship can last up to an hour, the act of mating lasts only 10 to 20 seconds and can end with the female making a meal of her boyfriend, although this apparently is more likely to happen with "senile males, whose biologically useful days are at an end." (info from The Country Life Guide to SPIDERS of Britain and Northern Europe by Dick Jones)
The female Araneus places her eggs in a silken sac and stays with them to protect them from parasites until the autumn frosts kill her.

The spiderlings hatch in spring and so mother and children sadly never meet, as in the charming children's book Charlotte's Web by E. B. White.  On the other hand if she did meet them she might devour them so we mustn't get too sentimental.

Images by Nick's Spiders, Bug Blog and European Arachnology websites - thanks

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