Tag Archives: spider

Killer Flowers

In spring and early summer many trees and shrubs come into bloom, and many are so heavily in bloom that they are like the terrestrial equivalent of coral reefs, absolutely teeming with wildlife of all kinds, shapes, sizes and colours. Take the blooms on this massive shrub in my garden for example, a Wedding-Cake Viburnum, which blooms from May to June in good years like this one, and which is as old as I am. It looks like a giant icing-covered cake:

A whole city of flowers, and one-tree habitat and my favourite of all.
A whole city of flowers on a one-tree habitat which is my favourite garden tree of all.

Anyhow, as you look over this wonderland you might see something strange. You might see a bee perched on a flower with its head jammed into the petals, as this small solitary species is. Bees do get drunk on pollen, but usually fall off flowers when this happens. What is it doing?

A solitary bee looking a bit odd.
A solitary bee looking a bit odd.

And then you might see something stranger than that. You might see a big drone fly, a species of hoverfly, doing a head-stand! How?

A big bee or fly doing a headstand on a flower is not as unusual a sight as you might think - but what on earth is it up to?
A big bee or fly doing a headstand on a flower is not as unusual a sight as you might think – but what on earth is it up to?

This is the same area of blossom two days in a row – clearly something is amiss, but what? We need to see the same petals without the yogic insects. Do you notice anything odd?

There's something funny about these flowers...
There’s something funny about these flowers…

Have you noticed anything? Don’t worry if you haven’t, it’s not easy to see. But there is something hidden among the petals. In fact, you might actually be looking at it and thinking it is a petal. It is in fact our largest species of crab spider, the Flower Crab Spider. It’s an ambush specialist and to make sure it can’t be seen by its insect prey is can even change colour, but not to any colour. Just some. It doesn’t make a web, it just perches on a suitable flower and waits for an insect to come down to feed. Can you see it now in this next photo?

If you can't see it let me tell you this, it's looking right at the cameras and waiting to grab it.
If you can’t see it let me tell you this, it’s looking right at the cameras and waiting to grab it.

Okay, maybe you can see the spider now, but are finding it a little difficult to make out the details, so I’ll make it a little clearer. Check this out:

Here it is, as clear as day, with long forelegs outstretched to snatch prey when it comes to land.
Here it is, as clear as day, with long forelegs outstretched to snatch prey when it comes to land.

This is a female Flower Crab Spider. She is much larger than the male and has a smooth shiny body with bright yellow eyes. She can almost turn green but is usually bright white or bright yellow. These spiders get their name because they hold their long forelegs out like crabs claws. In fact, they generally stand on their four short back legs and hold out their four long front legs, and when they walk they scuttle sideways. The venom is not known to be harmful to humans, but it is so powerful to insects that it kills them instantly, preventing them from escaping the spider which has no web to aid it. The small male is very thin and coloured like bird-droppings, and will usually deliberately perch on bird droppings splashed on leaves. The female is not gigantic, but its cushion-like body can reach almost the width and length of a human thumbnail.

So now that you know what it is for sure, go back and look at those other photos and see if you can recognise the spider clearly among the petals. But the story doesn’t just end here…

If Spiders were Teddy-bears

I know this blog is slightly in danger of becoming overrun by False Widows and other spiders, but there is one interesting species I haven’t mentioned enough, which you can see walking about on your house in broad daylight – the Zebra Spider, the most common species of jumping spider in Ireland. And it does look like a cuddly little teddy-bear.

A female Zebra Spider. She's tiny, and no matter where you live in Ireland there is almost certainly one walking about on the outer wall of your house hunting for tiny insect prey. They look nothing like other spiders, and don't make webs, hunting on foot on sunny walls.
A female Zebra Spider. She’s tiny, and no matter where you live in Ireland there is almost certainly one walking about on the outer wall of your house hunting for tiny insect prey. They look nothing like other spiders, and don’t make webs, hunting on foot on sunny walls.

The Zebra Spider gets its name because many of them have black stripes on their white firry backs, particularly the males. However, the males also have massive black fangs which they use in the same way that stags use their antlers – to fight for females. Zebra Spiders are usually around 5 or 6mm long, rarely reaching 8, and they have very short legs. They leap on their prey and if you approach one it will lift its head and look you straight in the face with those huge binocular-like eyes mounted at the front of the head. They also possess a bizarre ability to leap across the faces of walls, and they can walk across glass windows with ease. Stare at any sunny wall on any building for a few minutes and you will spot one.

False Widows

A good few people have been in touch yesterday and today due to concerns over False Widow spiders being in Ireland.¬† I’m doing this post just to give you the facts. For anyone who is generally concerned about spiders and how to identify them, here is a link to my e-book about spiders, which you can download and read whether you own a kindle, or not, as it works on pc, laptop or Mac automatically when you download:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Irish-Spiders-ebook/dp/B00ALJ8JTE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1381702822&sr=8-1&keywords=sam+connolly+irish+spiders

A female Steatoda nobilis False Widow eating a woodlouse.
A female Steatoda nobilis False Widow eating a woodlouse.

Firstly, they’ve actually been recorded in Britain since the 1870s and here since the early 1980s. Firstly, they’ve been well established in Ireland since the 1990s. I found my first one in 1996. Secondly, they are called False Widows because they are not in the same genus as the true Widow spiders, but they are related. They are also much less venomous, and many False Widows are not venomous to man at all. They are virtually identical though, in size shape and colour.

Both Steatoda grossa and S. nobilis can be all black, looking identical to true Widow spiders. This one on my hand is an all black S. grossa.
Both Steatoda grossa and S. nobilis can be all black, looking identical to true Widow spiders. This one on my hand is an all black S. grossa.

False Widows also don’t actively bite and they don’t wander around very much either. They are not nearly as large as the House Spider, and are smooth rather than hairy. The body is the shape, size and texture of a black currant. I have frequently handled them and so far have never been bitten. However, if you are bitten the alkalic juice of the Dock leaf is very effective at neutralising the venom. Baking soda diluted in water is also very good but be careful as some people suffer burns to their skin from baking soda.

The bite my brother received when he accidentally crushed a False Widow beneath his hand. The spider lived, as did my brother. He described the pain as a numb ache that lasted about half-an-hour.
The bite my brother received when he accidentally crushed a False Widow beneath his hand. The spider lived, as did my brother. He described the pain as a numb ache that lasted about half-an-hour. I originally thought this might have been the bite of the Walnut Orb-weaver, an indigenous Irish spider which also delivers painful bites, as it was not quite as painful as we expected it should be. However, Trevor was 100% certain of his identification, and he knows his stuff.

Finally, the bite: the effects you suffer, if any, very much depend on your skin pH, and specific biology. My brother, Trevor, accidentally leaned on a False Widow when he rested against a bust stop bin while waiting for a bus a few years ago. It was a fully grown spider. Trevor says that the average bee-sting he has suffered was about twenty times more painful. However, some people could be allergic and suffer anaphylactic shock, but a peanut is potentially as much a threat to any person as a False Widow in that case.

Anyhow, the two most common spiders False Widows are confused with are the Missing-sector Orb-weaver  (Zygiella x-notata) and the Windowsill Spider (Amaurobius similis, both of which are very different to each other, but somewhat like False Widows.