CAN’s very first spider event was held on a gloriously sunny September day at Wybunbury. The excellent facilities of the Village Hall provided the venue, where Bill Bellamy introduced our leader, Philip Baldwin.
His introductory talk covered the anatomy and taxonomy of the 33 families and 650+ species of British spiders, vividly illustrated by smartphone photos.
The variety of web shapes, from the classic orb web of garden spiders to tubes and untidy masses of thread over your shed provides one clue to identification. The environment and lifestyle range from species confined to caves and iron bridges or railings (what did it do before the industrial revolution?) to families which jump on their prey or spit out threads of sticky gum to trap it.
Then it was out onto Wybunbury Moss National Nature Reserve to see what we could find. We were privileged to enter the inner moss area where a layer of peat floats on a deep pool, a feature originally formed during the last ice age. Bill’s warnings not to wander towards the middle ensured that the spirit of the bog claimed no victim of drowning. The colourful spread of sphagnum and cross-leaved heath was studded with webs still glistening with dew and we were soon overwhelmed with specimens to take back for the practical ID session.
Now we started to grapple with the standard identification keys to the families – requiring close examination of mouthparts, leg hairs, spinnerets, eye patterns and other parts which modesty prevents me from mentioning. Our live specimens generally settled down quietly in their petri dishes so that we could appreciate all these intricate structures under the microscope. Not only do spiders have eight legs but in many cases eight eyes as well!
Spider ID is fortunate in that the best book is the readily available and inexpensive Collins guide by Roberts – this enables identification to species except for the Linyphiidae family of money spiders, which are mostly very small but do account for nearly half the number of British species. There is also a wealth of information on the website (where else!) of the British Arachnological Society, who also run a national recording scheme encouraging everyone to submit observations of easily recognisable species.
All in all, an excellent day encouraging us to take the subject further.
Phil Brighton (CAN member)