What makes autumn special… or especially special, as I recently heard someone say, is fungi. There are always fungi around, but usually like veins or threads in the soil or in trees, alive or dead. But in autumn their spectacular fruiting bodies appear, what we call mushrooms and toadstools. And many of them are absolutely fantastic-looking. Each tree will have its own species, so what you find very much depends on where you go, but Wicklow has such varied habitats you are likely to find many spectacularly-different species. Here are just a selection I found in a woods consisting of birch, alder and willow trees on acidic soil:
These are just a selection I photographed in less than an hour in the woods. As for eating them… I have only very basic knowledge about that and so can give no advice. All mushrooms taste like poison to me! Mushroom soup isn’t too bad though… sometimes. And I would never risk making it myself. The cause of of most food-related poisonings is the colossal ego of a wannabe chef…
Well, it’s that time of the year again when Summer begins to change into Autumn… but it’s more of a summer than June, July and even August gave us. This time of the year is when spiders become very apparent on and sometimes in our houses. Many people become alarmed by some of the spiders they see, particularly the large Tegenaria House Spiders, and Garden or Cross Spiders, and lately the larger species of False Widow, Steatoda nobilis. But there are many species on the move at this time of the year, and the main motivation is sex, males looking for females, and females sometimes trying to find good real estate to set up home in to raise their young. Think of them as eight-legged yummie-mummies.
Anyhow, here are the ones I get asked most about:
The House Spider – Tegenaria duellica (also sometimes known as T. gigantea)
In late summer and early autumn the males often enter houses and sheds looking for females. They will also fight bitterly with other males over females. Some of these males seem to live very long lives, mating in a succession of years. When the female accepts a male as a mate he moves into her web with her and the two can often be seen together in one web on autumn evenings. This relationship lasts until the female becomes pregnant, and shortly before she gives birth he either leaves or is turfed out (nobody is certain which) probably because he might eat the young, lacking her maternal instinct, but we don’t know for sure. Once males have found themselves females they settle down and you won’t see them wandering around anymore.
The Cross Spider, aka Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus)
These spiders rarely if ever enter houses, but will sometimes spin webs outside houses, and some webs are immense. They are orb-weaver spiders, named because of their classic spider-webs and bulbous orb-like bodies. The name “Cross Spider” comes from the jewel-like studded white cross marking on the abdomen. There are usually two main colour variations, the classic being darker, and more spectacular.
Cross Spiders can grow very large (their abdomens can be as wide as the tip of a man’s thumb, and as bulbous), and they look very exotic, which is what normally upsets people who find them. These large ones are only the females, the males being much smaller and very often eaten by the females either before or after mating. This is common with orb-weaver spiders. There is a closely-related and very similar, but even larger relative of this spider in Ireland called the Four-spotted Orb-weaver – Araneus quadratus, which I have only ever seen once before, and a few years before I took up photography.
The False Widow – Steatoda nobilis, is now a very common species in Ireland. There are two main species recorded here, the smaller and usually blacker one is Steatoda grossa. S. nobilis, as many people will know, is venomous to humans, and does on rare occasions enter houses and sheds, but usually prefers to hang in its strong tangled webs under the eaves of buildings.