Amazing spider facts
Unravelling the secrets of the eight-legged world
The sight of incey wincey's legs poking out of a dark spidery lair can send even the toughest wildlife enthusiast screaming for the hills. Spiders have a reputation as deadly killers, but in the UK at least, this is only true if you are an insect.
Spiders are often the forgotten creatures of UK wildlife, but they have such incredible lives. To help you unfold the mysteries of the arachnid world, here are ten surprising facts.
1. Autumn is spider breeding season.
The months are getting cooler but it is all starting to heat up for our spiders, which are focused on finding a mate. Many spiders become more visible to us during autumn as the females fatten up to attracted a courting male.
It can be a scary time for arachnophobes, as more spiders are spotted inside houses. These hopeful individuals are generally males in search of their Juliet. Towards the end of autumn, spiders begin to prepare for the chilly time ahead. Many will die off with the first frost whilst others hibernate until the following spring.
2. Some spiders can walk on water
Many spiders have evolved to live in or around water including the raft spider. This biblical spider lays in wait at the waters edge with its front two feet resting on the water feeling for vibrations. When the prey is within range it gracefully skates across the waters surface to pounce on its victim.
The female of this species has a rather interesting technique for incubating her eggs. To ensure the eggs receive a warm welcome she carries the egg pouch in her mouth presenting it to the sky following the sun.
3. Orb-web spiders produce decorated webs called stabilimentum
The brightly coloured wasp spider is a member of the orb-web spinning family. This group of spiders produce magnificent web decoration called stabilimentum. The designs of the wasp spiders woven tapestry is zigzag.
The function of the elaborate web decoration was initially believed to stabilise the web structure, however this has since been disputed. It may actually be to make the spider appear larger and less appealing to predators, or help entice curious prey.
4. Spider silk is five times stronger than steel of the same diameter.
Spiders have seven different silk glands that can produce silk with different properties.
Silk production is a key part in a spiders' life. It can be woven into a web to catch prey, used as swathing silk to immobilise any unwilling dinner option, architecturally kitted together to form shelters and egg sacs, and used to tactically manoeuvre between areas through ballooning.
Silk even plays an intricate part in the sex life of spiders with males preparing a spider web boudoir in which he deposits sperm ready for a receptive female.
5. Spiders have up to eight eyes
The number and arrangement of eyes can be used to distinguish between the different species of spider.
Hunting spiders such as the wolf spider have eight eyes in three rows with the top set being the largest and most developed. Spiders have single lens eyes, unlike insects that have the characteristic compound eye.
6. The UK is residence to more than 600 species of spider.
We have a huge diversity of spiders here on our island. One of our smallest spiders is the comb-footed spider (Theonoe minutissima) which can grow up to 1.25 mm in length; tiny in comparison to the cave spider (Meta bourneti), one of our largest spiders, which can reach up to 16 mm body length.
The latter spider is one of two cave spider that we have in the UK; both of which never see the light of day.
7. The noble false widow spider is the UK's most venomous.
It may come as a bit of a shock, but the UK is home to a number of spiders that can pack a venomous bite. The false widow spider is not native to the UK it is believed to have hitched a ride within one of our fruit deliveries from the sunny Canary Islands.
Although nowhere near as toxic as their close cousins, the black widow, these little chaps are still not to be messed with. Generally speaking though, humans are not the flavour of the month for UK spiders with the vast majority of suspected spider bites being caused by stinging insects and plants.
8. Baby money spiders use gossamer threads to balloon from their family home.
Taking a walk in the countryside during autumn and you will undoubtedly see the web spun carpet of the money spider. These blankets are made up of gossamer threads spun by juvenile money spiders as they make the big step of leaving home.
9. There are eight different types of UK house spider
Although calling them 'house' spiders is a little deceptive. The natural habitat of these spiders is not the house it is in fact the garden.
10. Many spiders can colour shift
It isn't just lizards that can use colour to blend into the background the spidery world also has many 8-legged chameleons including the four spot orb weaver and the crab spider.
At this time of year spiders appear to be everywhere, however habitat loss and climate change are having a dramatic effect on a number of our spider populations. In recent years, a number of spiders have appeared on the UK governments biodiversity action plan including the Fen raft spider.
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