Spider Safari: In the Bikeshed
Sally Le Page went to Cambourne to visit Brian Eversham, CEO of the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust, and a massive spider enthusiast. As part of their spider safari, they took a poke around in the bikesheds to see which creatures they could find...
Brian: - So we're here just under the edge of the Wildlife Trust bicycle shelter in the back garden of the Manor House at Cambourne. Ah right, so a medium-sized female house spider, a lovely herringbone pattern down the middle of her back. So dark brown, four markings, about a centimetre long, probably four centimetre leg span when she starts running.
Sally - These are the ones that we see scurrying across the floor? This species, at least?
Brian - That's right. So this I think is a female. So she'll be sitting here waiting for those wandering males to find her. The females remain hidden away, usually webs in corners of rooms or behind bookcases, and the males go hunting for females.
Sally - So it's only the males that you see scurrying across the bathroom floor when you go to the loo in the middle of the night?
Brian - Almost always. And this time of year, they should be adults. So if you've got the patience and the stamina to have a good look at them, then the males have large dangly structures in front of their face, a pair of thing like boxing gloves called palps, and they're what they use both to signal to the female and actually during mating as well. So they can get in quick and mate without giving themselves lunch instead of a partner. Ah, and we have a false widow spider, at last. Huge noble false widow. So this is the big one.
Sally - It's almost red.
Brian - Reddish brown, centimetre long.
Sally - Wow, she's shiny.
Brian - And she's fast. Wow. So that was the noble false widow. Another recent colonist to Britain, been moving north over the last 10, 15 years, globular abdomen, shiny chestnut brown, almost conker-coloured. And usually a pale marking on the top of the back that looks a little bit like a skull if you're so minded to imagine it, and very fast moving when she needs to be, as we just saw.
Sally - So a real black widow, they have a red marking on the back right?
Brian - On the underside, turn them over and you'd see a sort of hourglass shape in red on a dark background, not found in Britain and still a very long way from colonising. So not one to worry about. Today's beast would possibly give me a nip if I tried very hard to hold her and a manipulate her, but as you saw, she's much keener to get out of the way, than waste venom on something that isn't worth eating.