One of the sure signs that summer has come to an end is the appearance of large male house spiders, scuttling across living room floors in search of a mate, or getting stuck in the bath. This year, if the press are to be believed, they are bigger than ever, and have caused a wave of hysteria to sweep the nation.
Spare a thought for the poor spider, even the much maligned false widow is highly unlikely to do you any harm, she and her kin may have been living peaceably in your broom cupboard for years doing nothing more sinister than eating a few flies. If you do provoke her, her bite is no worse than a wasp sting.
I may not be able to make you love spiders, but I can show you some of their magic. I look forward to the misty autumn mornings when these eight legged architects drape every available surface with their jewel encrusted creations, and they arrived this week without any fanfare. On Tuesday I was so preoccupied with giving the dog a decent run before I had to be somewhere else, that I was taken by surprise by the dew covered webs hanging from the seed heads and thistles on the river bank. Caught in the sunlight, they were overwhelmingly beautiful. I had my camera in my pocket, but less than five minutes to spare. Not for the first time I berated myself for my inability to get out earlier in the mornings, but I did manage to take some quick snaps and (almost) get back before I was missed.
I have always had a soft spot for spiders. One of my earliest childhood memories is finding a large orb weaver on the wall of our garden shed. It looked just like one of the leather buttons on my grandfather’s coat, and I wanted to show my mum. I put it into the first thing I could find, a little yellow plastic bath from a dolls house, covered it with my hand to stop it escaping, and ran up the garden. It bit me! I don’t remember what happened afterwards, but if I did tell my mother there were certainly no histrionics and, although it didn’t turn me into spider woman, it obviously didn’t dampen my enthusiasm.
Almost 50 years later I am still trying to get to grips with the clever little predators, and have armed myself with a field guide, a hand lens, and a second hand copy of Bristowe’s ‘The World of Spiders’. I doubt I will ever learn more than a handful of their Latin names (sadly very few have common ones) or be dedicated enough to identify them to species, but I don’t think it matters. I find them endlessly fascinating, and even those who have little love for them must agree that their remarkable, intricate, webs are truly wonders of nature.
One final word, if you do find a house spider in your bath throw in the towel! It will thank you by using it to climb out.