Nature notes: early November 2016


I always think that winter really begins to bite in the second week of November and so it has proved this year, bringing with it the first frosts.

Now is the time of year when spiders enter our dwellings to seek warmth and shelter.

Spiders are an emotive subject. Many people have the jitters when they see one and arachnophobia is commonplace.

House spiders cause the most concern, suddenly running at breakneck speed from under one chair to another. There is an old wives’ tale which recommends placing horse chestnut conkers under beds etc to deter them and it certainly works in my experience.

There are very many species in Britain. The well-known orb-web or garden spider is fully grown by autumn when the female (always the female) sits on her dew-laden web, always head down, awaiting prey.  Smaller males skulk around but are rarely seen. Webs are frequently speckled with flies bundled up in a kind of larder.

Once I found a large moth trussed up suspended on a single thread. I carefully unravelled it whereupon the moth flew off seemingly unharmed.

The most handsome of all spiders is the wasp spider (pictured on the banks of Penn Ponds in Richmond park).  She builds a sort of scaffolding in long grass and awaits her favourite prey of grasshoppers although anything else that blunders into the sticky trap will suffice.

One thing is certain. Spiders form an essential link in the environmental chain, maintaining a balance in the invertebrate world. world.