Jos Ashpole

There are lots of things to love about autumn: golden leaves, hedgerows full of fruit and fabulous fungi. And let’s not forget misty mornings where dew reveals bewelled spiders’ webs! They seem to be everywhere – in our gardens and hedgerows, on street signs and even on and in our homes.

Spiders get a lot of negative press and particularly around Halloween they’re associated with ghosts, ghouls and all manner of things that’ll make you jump.

Inspired by some fabulous photos shared with us, we’ll put those spooky thoughts aside. Instead, we'll tell tales of a group of animals that are colourful, canny and enrich our world. Let’s uncover some interesting spider tales.

A chameleon in our midst

Think of spiders and you may not imagine colour-shifting marvels. But meet the four spotted orb-web spider and you might think again. Yes, that’s right, spiders in the UK can change colour.

Take a look at these images of the four spotted orb web spider taken at the RSPB’s Pulborough Brooks reserve on the south coast of England.

From golden pumpkin-coloured…

Golden pumpkin coloured four spotted orb-web spider

Image: Carey Lodge

…to chestnut brown…

Chestnut brown four spotted orb-web spider

Image: Anna Allum

... and creamy white.

Creamy white four spotted orb-web spider

Image: Carey Lodge

Females change their colour to camouflage themselves. It can take three days for the colour to change. As their name suggests, these spiders build orb-shaped webs, which are placed low on the ground on patches of undisturbed grassland, heather or gorse.

And this isn’t the only spider that can change colour – here’s another one…

Crab or spider?

Let’s take look at a spider that we’ll file under the ‘canny’ category. Meet the flower crab spider, Misumena vatia. As its name suggests, this spider looks pretty like a crab. It has long front legs, much like a crab’s long front limbs. It moves sideways like a crab too.

This spider is found on flowers, also as its name suggests. It doesn’t spin a web, instead it lies in wait and pounces on its prey – bees, hoverflies and other flower-visiting insects.

The females can change colour depending on their surroundings. This allows them to hide from unsuspecting prey. They can range from white to green/yellow in colouration.

Look out for them in summertime in southern parts of the UK.

Crab spider with prey

Image: crab spider with prey by Nature's Home reader Mike Challenger

Shake it up

The last spider we’ll meet in this blog is Pholcus phalangioides, also known as the long-legged cellar spider or the daddy long-legs spider. It’s a spider you might come across at home – tucked up high in the corner of a room on a flimsy-looking web. We’ll focus on two surprising things about this animal.

Firstly, when disturbed, this spider doesn’t scurry away. Instead it shakes violently, sometimes so much so that the spider becomes a blur in front of your eyes.

Secondly, these spiders have quite the maternal instinct. The female carries the eggs with her. When they hatch she keeps guard over them as they grow. In other aspects of their life, these spiders can be quite a threat to other spiders, woodlice and will even eat members of their own species but let’s not dwell on that…

Daddy long legs spider

Image: daddy long-legs spider and spiderlings by Nature's Home reader Ashley Haworth-Roberts

Web of life

There are so many spiders to talk about we can’t share them all here. But look around you and you might just come across another fascinating species.

Some of the UK’s spiders desperately need help and the RSPB and partners are going to great efforts to secure their future. Find out more about efforts on RSPB reserves to help the ladybird spider and the fen raft spider.

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