Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Garden Cross Spider

It is about this time of the year that people begin to come up with alarming - and much exaggerated - reports of large spiders.

Some are 'huge' house spiders. These are almost invariably specimens of Eratigena atrica (= T. gigantea) See my blog "House Spiders", 31 December, 2012.

I was reminded of this when I disturbed a large spider as I was clearing a clump of Pampas Grass.
Araneus diadematus. Stefan Hill, Daventry
23 October, 2014

It was a handsome female Araneus diadematus, generally known as the Garden Cross Spider. She was fully mature and her large abdomen showed that she was gravid, i.e. full of eggs, having successfully mated. The much smaller male runs a terrible risk when mating and signals his intent by going through a ritual plucking of her web before advancing too near. With luck he may mate with several females until he becomes weak and...

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There is variability in the coloration of this species and the typical form is a duller, mid-brown. However, brighter chestnut specimens are not uncommon and are very attractive. They could probably deliver quite a painful bite but generally they are quite docile. Certainly I have never been bitten by one. Here she is on my wrist (and I can almost hear my sister Celia squealing with horror) intent only on making her escape to a secure site where she will build a new web. This species may build a new web every day although occasionally they are re-used if the latest one is undamaged. 

When, in 1757, the Swedish naturalist Carl Alexander Clerck named this species Araneus diadematus he was referring to the diadem or cross formed by white spots on the abdomen (these spots are actually cells swollen by guanine). The species was revered in ancient times as a bringer of good luck, the cross being seen as a holy sort of talisman.

I have a soft spot for this species and today, as always, I made a point of removing it to a place of safety before resuming my attack on the pampas grass. Hopefully she will live long enough to lay her eggs because with - or soon after - the first frost, she will die.

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