Spider Safari: In the Grass
Sally Le Page went to Cambourne to visit Brian Eversham, CEO of the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust, and a massive spider enthusiast. They ventured out into a grassy bit of the nature reserve to go on their very own spider safari.
Brian - So next to the grass here, we've got medium length grass. And what we're looking for are webs between the grasses.
Sally - That is a thick spider, that is a fat body on the other side of that grass.
Brian - And colorful. So from this angle, I can see a bright orange body and pale creamy legs with dark brown bands on them. I'm just going to put my hand underneath there. She's a medium sized, four-spotted Orb-weaver, and she'll be about a centimeter long and fairly heavy. Some of her species are the heaviest British spider. And this is the one with probably the strongest silk of any Orb-weaver. So you definitely walk through a meadow bump into one of these webs and it will for a second actually stop you in your tracks. Ah, yes. So she's moving out to a little shelter. She's tied together several bits of grass to form a little curved, almost a dome, and now she's sitting underneath the dome protected from all sides. And for most angles you can no longer see her. And if I persuade her to drop out of there, we can get a look at her upper side. She's quite a pretty beast. There you go.
Sally - Oh, look at that patterning!
Brian - So, four iridescent pearly white spots, she's ready to start laying eggs. And in the last three or four weeks, she's probably doubled her weight. So she was quite as felt and slender lady until she decides now is the time to reproduce and the body's built for it.
Brian - Shout if you see a big spider!
Sally - Oh, I've got a spider!
Brian - Uh and it's moving! Ah, that's one of the very biggest of the money spiders.
Sally - That's a money spider. That's huge for a money spider.
Brian - Yeah. So what 6, 7, 8 millimeters long and rather pretty. So it's basic background color is dark brown or black, but he's got lovely white zigzags running along the side of the abdomen and probably got striping legs as well. I think that's cute. One reason I can tell it's a money spider, it's sitting on the underside of a sort of hammock web. So the web strung between branches where it's almost horizontal and the spider's resting on the underside of it, basically waiting for insects to fall into it. And at which point it will rush in there and bite them.
Sally - This doesn't have the pretty web you'd expect. It's more like a tangled sheet. Why is that better for the spider than to have your standard orby web?
Brian - I don't think it's a matter of being better, it's a matter of doing something other spiders aren't doing. So most of our money spiders produce the sheet web horizontal to catch things that are falling. Most Orb-weavers spin a vertical web that catch those things flying or bouncing or springing.