Misty mornings and heavy dew are almost synonymous with autumn in my mind and so it will come as no surprise that I enjoy photographing them too. One particular subject is favoured by many a naturalist and photographer in these conditions; spider’s webs. These natural wonders are all the more spectacular when bejewelled with hundreds of tiny droplets glinting in the morning light. It therefore seems a particularly fitting way to start this week’s post with just such an image that I took recently.
For some of you, I expect that spiders are not a particularly welcome sight. I know that as a youngster I was not at all keen on them. I have to say that handling spiders is still something that I don’t enjoy, but as I’ve grown to understand what incredible creatures they are, I certainly have a new found sense of wonder at their complexity and variety.
For example, while all spiders produce silk in one form or another, some can create up to seven different types to perform different functions from the obvious web to capture prey, to gossamer for dispersal of young on the wind and delicate cocoons for their precious eggs. In this next image, you can see a Marbled Orb Weaver (Araneus marmoreus) using a thicker type of silk to immobilise the prey that has become tangled in her web, in this case a wasp.
The next photograph is of a species that many of you will be familiar with, even if you don’t know much about it. The Labyrinth Spider (Agelena labyrinthica) is widespread and easy to spot because of its habit of building a funnel-shaped sheet web in which it hides. It takes its name from the maze-like mass of tunnels which spread out from the narrow end of the funnel and conceal the egg sac full of developing young.
Another familiar arachnid for many is the Garden Cross Spider (Araneus diadematus). Whilst not confined to our gardens they are one of the more likely species to find lurking in the flower beds. They do vary in colour but all have a characteristic white crucifix shape on the abdomen that gives them their name. This particular individual was quite a vibrant rust colour compared to others I have seen.
The Four-Spot Orb Weaver (Araneus quadratus) is another which takes its name from its patterning. I had only seen them once before this year but hadn’t had my camera with me at the time so I was pleased to find them on the Norfolk coast. Unfortunately for me it was quite a breezy day and I had immense trouble focusing as the web was being blown all over the place. This image does show the markings on the abdomen nicely though. I have since found one in the field margin next to my house – typical! Needless to say I’m sure I’ll be photographing them more often in future.
I didn’t have so much trouble with this next image, the subject was most obliging. This one is a Furrow Orb Weaver (Larinioides cornutus) which is most often found near water. I actually photographed this one in a hide overlooking a lake so, while it may not be obvious, it was in the right place!
My last spidery image for this piece is my personal favourite. I have wanted to see one of these beauties for a number of years, and despite looking in several known locations I didn’t manage to find what I was looking for until much more recently, and with a little help.
The Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi) has to be one of Britain’s most spectacular invertebrate species. It is in fact a recent arrival from the continent and has slowly colonised the south of the country. You can’t mistake the female’s striking wasp-like colours, but there is another interesting feature in the web which is not common in other British species; a stabilimentum. This is a wide zig-zag feature in the middle of the web, though nobody knows what purpose it serves. I have read about them but never seen one before and despite my best efforts this gorgeous lady had not built one into her web so I am still on the lookout.
These are, of course, only a few of a great many species with which we share our homes, gardens and countryside. I hope that these photographs have highlighted the beauty that can be found in the world of British arachnids. I know that there will still be some of you that fear spiders, but perhaps by sharing some of their amazing adaptations you can learn to love them a little more like I have.