The Four Spot and the Strawberry

Regular readers of The Naturephile may have noticed numerous references to the loopy weather we have experienced in this part of the world this year, in particular the wetness of the spring and the subsequent brevity of the summer. And you may also have cottoned on to the fact that I have a spider fascination.

Despite the unusual summer weather conditions, later on in the summer and into the autumn I found lots of spiders including two species which I haven’t seen here before. Common garden spider webs (Araneus diadematus) adorned every surface in my garden in the autumn and this particularly nice example was strung between two hawksbeard stems in the local meadow:

Garden spider web bejewelled with dew

One of the most intricate webs I found was that of the labyrinth orb weaver (Agelena labyrinthica), they’re amazing constructions and most of them aren’t very visible until there’s a cold morning and the webs are laden with dew, then it’s possible to see that they adorn all the hedgrows and undergrowth.

The two species I found which I hadn’t seen before were the four spot orb weaver (Araneus quadratus) and the strawberry spider (Araneus alsine, aka orange wheel weaving spider).

The green body of the four spot orb weaver

Both my initial encounters with these little beauties were a little unnerving because I was unaware that spiders with these colours were lurking in my local undergrowth. The four spot flew past me at high speed when I snagged it’s trip line when I was trying to get in position to photograph a male common darter dragonfly:

https://i1.wp.com/farm9.staticflickr.com/8066/8155314987_f0c0087b41.jpgA male common darter dragon – non-arachnid interloper in this post

And a strawberry spider dropped down a few centimetres from my eyes when I was unlocking my gate! All I saw was a bright red bulbous abdomen so my first thought was “Bloody hell, it’s a black widow!”. So I ran to get my camera before it disappeared. Both of these were females and around the same size as a regular garden spider, but as you can see the colours were very different.

The bright red body of the aptly named strawberry spider

Another spider I found in my garden this year was the missing sector spider (Zygiella x-notata). I was intrigued by the name of the missing sector spider and it transpires it comes from the design of the web. If the planar, circular web is a clockface, the part between 11 and 12 o’clock has no spiral threads, so is effectively a ‘missing sector’.

The missing sector spider making a meal out of a cranefly

This particular individual was busy securing a cranefly and it seemed to take great pains to ensure the fly was maximally envenomated. It spent a couple of minutes running around the struggling fly, inflicting multiple bites before wrapping it up in a cocoon of silk and carrying it off to be hung from the window frame and consumed at leisure.

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27 responses to “The Four Spot and the Strawberry

  1. Beautiful detail, Finn…wonderful.

  2. The first pic of the web is gor-ge-ous…hmm maybe I’ve been influenced too much by Craig on Strictly! I love spiders, they are fascinating and I’ve never seen a strawberry spider before. When I was small I was the one who had to get the huge spiders out of the bath which I did really happily until one BIT me! It was quite painful and from then on I’ve been slightly wary, using the glass and paper method. I was also on bat duty too, as they used to come into the bedrooms sometimes. Spiders are really efficient predators, there’s nothing better than watching them at work 🙂

    • SE-VERN! Oh no, we’re all at it now 🙂

      Most spiders don’t have big enough or strong enought fangs to pierce human skin, but you obviously found one that did! I always use the glass and postcard technique to avoid getting bitten and also so I don’t squash the spider. And bats too! How exciting is that. I’ve never had a bat in my house, I can imagine that presented a unique set of problems, how did you evict them?

      I’m with you on watching them do their thing. I posted about a garden spider doing just that a couple of years ago here: https://thenaturephile.com/2010/10/02/araneus-diadematus/

      • Ha ha, with great difficulty! Opened all the windows and kind of wafted them towards them. Luckily the windows were quite big so they eventually made it out.

        Once, there was a bat crouched below the loft opening. I started looking at it really closely and then got a bit scared! Well, I was only eleven or something… 🙂

      • I’d love to see bats up close like that, we have them flying around the house but they never find their way in. Maybe the spiders get to all the insects first so they reason there’s no point!

        (I noticed in my reply to your first comment there’d been a WP hiccup and the link to the garden spider post wasn’t there. So I’ve added it in again and it should work now)

      • I had a look at that post…what WAS that little spider playing at! Thanks, the photographs were beautifully graphic.

      • She must have been a bit of a beauty and he fancied his chances 😉

  3. It’s just about time for our little Christmas/jewel spiders (Austracantha minax) to make their yearly appearance and we are inundated with Daddy longlegs (Pholcus phalangioides) that appear to be quite vain and who have taken over the bathroom and are hanging off the mirrors. I don’t mind spiders in the house because they tackle the mosquito problem and tend to self regulate each other. Another asset is that they tend to eat any blowflies that sneak into the house to seek refuge from the heat and as the blowflies head for the windows, the house spiders get rewarded as we are rewarded by not having to use insecticides. We occasionally get a huntsman (Delena cancerides) in the house after a free moth meal but they tend to head off in the day and unless they decide to sit on the light switches in the dark (which they do surprisingly often!) I have NO problem with them.

    • The thought of the huntsmen on light switches made me laugh. Just goes to show that even spiders have a sense of humour 🙂

      Reminds of a particularly cruel practical joke I played on an arachnophobic colleague. I found a dead spider which had dried out and it’s legs had curled up, so I unfolded the legs to look a tad more lifelike, placed the spider on the handset of his phone when he was out the office and then rang him when he came back in. You can guess the rest! Oh, how I chortled.

  4. It’s a dastardly world at the minibeast level, what stunning shots Finn, and remarkable spiders. I had no idea such variety could be found in a garden like that, I haven’t given spiders nearly enough attention. I’ve learned a new word too: envenomated!

    • It can get pretty unpleasant at the maxibeast level too :-).

      I’m going to keep my eyes open for more spiders species, there are alot of them about. Envenomation is the process of injecting venom hence spiders, snakes, scorpions etc are ‘venomous’, not poisonous. The death cap mushroom and deadly nightshade are ‘poisonous’ (the clue is in the name!) because if eaten they cause poisoning.

  5. Hi Finn,

    It does make me wonder why certain arachnids have seemingly done so well this year. Perhaps, it was the timing of their breeding season during the peak of the exceptional grass growth. I can certainly vouch for the increase in the height around mid June (?) time as I was sneezing away like nobody’s business.

    Cheers

    Tony

    • They certainly seemed to be doing OK in my garden this year. I wonder if lots of insects and arachnids were delayed this year and their emergence was unusually synchronous? It was a strange year all round – as a phenologist you must have had lots of interesting observations.

  6. Fascinating. Great pictures Finn.

  7. You’ve really been blessed with arachnid encounters this fall, Finn. A bounty of beauties.

  8. Beautiful photos. Interesting description of the Missing Sector spider.

  9. Wonderful captures! I always seem to run into our enormous banana spider webs, here… I tend to be a bit oblivious.

    • Is that Nephila clavipes? I was just reading that they have various compounds including quinones in the silk of their webs to make them a golden colour. I wonder what the evolutionary rationale for that is?

      • I believe they are! They’re very beneficial, I know… And they’re webs ARE a gorgeous color. AND STRONG! Crazy strong. But when one runs into them… Oh my. Oh my. As I seem to always do. 🙂

        Perhaps they’re golden… to attract insects and prey better? Hm. Trying to wrap my head around how that would be.

      • I think all spiders are beneficial – the most effective slayer of mosquitos, blue bottles and all random biting insects known to man. God bless ’em for that!

      • OH I agree… I live on the edge of the Everglades, deep in South Florida — I praise ALL spiders and Native lizards!! I don’t harm a leg / tail on their creepy, crawly selves… 🙂

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