Monday, 11 February 2013

Of Foxes and Spiders

Today's newspapers have been headlining the case of a fox in south London which entered a house and attacked a baby. The fox escaped.

Less fortunate than the fox was a tiny spider found scurrying across our kitchen floor earlier today. Unsurprisingly it turned out to be Lepthyphantes tenuis; I say unsurprisingly as this is surely Britain's commonest spider, though being so small it is generally overlooked by the non-specialist. Unlike better known species such as the Garden Cross Spider (the one whose beautifully constructed orb webs festoon every garden shrub in the late summer) L. tenuis is active in every month of the year. 

Lepthyphantes is only one of many spider genera whose name ends in "phantes" - Bolyphantes, Magniphantes, Stemonyphantes, Pityohyphantes and so on. The suffix is derived from the Greek word for 'spinner'. 

As it happens all those just mentioned are "money spiders", so-called since they were once believed to bring good luck. Hold a spider on the end of a strand of web and pass it three times around the head for fame and fortune - so the old belief went. I've tried it prior to filling in a Lottery Ticket; it doesn't work! 

For obvious reasons, the association of spiders with good fortune was particularly strong in the spinning and weaving trade. 

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