Watch out – the spiders are coming

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Warm damp summer means arachnid numbers are set to soar. You have been warned, says Michael McCarthy


Good news for naturalists; bad news for arachnophobes. Reports of sightings from around the country suggest this is an absolutely bumper year for spiders. In gardens and garages, in houses and hedges, in town and countryside both, spiders are unusually prominent this autumn, spinning their shimmering webs in such numbers that the conservation charity Buglife is asking people to go on a spider hunt this weekend and next.

Buglife – officially the Invertebrate Conservation Trust – wants to get a proper idea of just how numerous this year's spider crop really is, and also try to counter some people's arachnophobia, as fear of spiders is technically known (from the fact that spiders and scorpions are not insects but arachnids, with eight legs as opposed to six).

"Spiders get a very bad press generally and we want people to reappraise them, and see how they are important to the local environment," said Matt Shardlow, Buglife's director. "Britain is very bad for spider phobia – it's worse here than in countries where they do have venomous species. I don't think we're genetically hard-wired for it. I think it has a social origin – people react to other people's fear."

In fact, Mr Shardlow points out, none of Britain's 650 spider species can deliver a fatal bite and only one uncommon species, the noble false widow, can even give a bite that will cause discomfort. The rest, including all the spiders you are likely to meet in your house and garden, are entirely harmless.

Right now, many are very visible as the generally warm and damp summer has provided ideal breeding conditions after the two washout summers of 2007 and 2008; and they are not only numerous, but not a few seem larger than normal as there has been abundant insect food for them (and some of the females are heavily pregnant).

"It's been an absolutely fantastic year for spiders," said Dante Munns, a naturalist and spider enthusiast who runs the Dorset nature reserves of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. "It's one of the best autumns I've ever seen for them. On misty mornings the webs seem to be glistening everywhere, and the countryside is full of them."

Spiders Mr Munns has been noticing and enjoying on his nature reserves recently include wasp spiders, whose females are brightly striped in yellow and black, and raft spiders, palm-sized beasts which do not spin a web but float on the surface of the water and feel the vibration if an insect falls in (which they then scurry over to capture.)

More familiar spiders Mr Shardlow has been watching include the garden cross spider, the common house spider and the daddy-long-legs spider, all of which you are more likely to see around your home, and all of which might seem to some people surprisingly large, although they present no threat whatsoever.

Buglife is asking people to poke around in their houses, garages, gardens and sheds to see if they can spot and identify 10 spider species over this weekend and the first weekend in October – and send in their results using the Buglife website at

Five spiders to spot this weekend

*Garden cross spider

Araneus diadematus

The commonest garden spider, with a white cross on its back that looks like a crucifix; spins an orb-like web.

*Common house spider

Tegeneria domestica

Spins a sheet web instead of an orb web, usually in the corner of a room, which is why cobwebs seem to collect in corners.

*Wasp spider (female)

Argiope bruennichi

First seen in the 1920s, but has now spread throughout much of southern England. The female's wasp-like coloration is thought to be mimicry which serves as a defence against predators such as birds.

*Daddy-long-legs spider

Pholcus phalangioides

Common in house cellars, this has a long thin body and even longer, thinner legs. It will eat other spiders, if they blunder into its almost invisible webs in dark corners.

*Raft spider

Dolomedes fimbriatus

This spider has worked out that water can have the same properties as a spider's web: it can trap insects, and convey the vibrations caused by their struggles to the spider waiting on the surface.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam