All posts by Samuel Connolly

Spider eating dogfood!



This year there was an absolute plague of House Spiders (Tegenaria species) all across Ireland and the island of Great Britain. There are always noticeable numbers of these spiders in the late summer and early autumn, but this year there were virtually swarms of them. It is possibly a cyclical occurrence but not enough is known about these spiders to say for sure. Most of the spiders were the long-legged males, which leave their own webs to seek out females in autumn. Unlike many other species of spiders female Tegenarias do not seem to eat the males, and this is why there will often be males of various sizes, as they survive each year they can grow bigger. And these spiders are believed to live to at least seven years in the wild, and twenty or so in captivity. The successful male will usually live with the female in her web for a few months and then leave just before the young hatch out.

A large male Tegenaria duellica (aka T. gigantea)...the short club-ended palps that look like small legs between the front legs, indicate this is a male spider.

This year I saw and photographed something quite amazing: a large female Tegenaria eating dogfood out of a dog’s bowl! The bowl had been left outside for the cats and hedgehogs to finish off, but attracted instead this remarkable creature. A crop of the image is below to show the detail – the spider is definitely eating the chicken and turkey-flavoured dogfood.

Large female Tegenaria duellica eating dogfood out of a bowl.
Tegenaria gigantea eating dog food. You can tell this is a female by her more stocky body and palps that DO NOT have clubbed ends.

The plague of spiders has since abated, but it is worth remembering that despite their large size that Tegenarias are not aggressive. Although they easily have fangs large enough to puncture human skin this rarely happens…except in North America where the invasive European species Tegenaria agrestis is known to enter houses in the deep cold winters and bite people. In Europe it lives out of doors and does not like to come into houses, probably because it doesn’t like humans.

The population explosion of these spiders could be due to the heavy cold winter of last year wiping out predators such as small bird species. The largest spider of this species that I have recorded had an abdomen of on 23mm llong (less than an inch) and a leg span of 16cm. Their legs make them look huge, but there are larger spiders in Ireland, albeit outdoors.



Another amazing book…

A few years ago an incredible book hit the Irish bookshelves, and only a few months ago was a bestseller on the NHBS, the Environmental Bookstore, website. I came across it when it first appeared in late 2008, and flicking through the pages discovered it to be a stunning work of scholarship by a somewhat mysterious Dublin author named Glynn Anderson. The book is Birds of Ireland: Facts, Folklore and History, one of the Collins Press’s prestige publications, and it is the most impressive Irish wildlife book you’re likely to ever come across. Each species of Irish bird is treated in fantastic detail, and what is even more spectacular is that rather than using modern photos the author has chosen lavish 19th century illustrations, mainly by the great naturalist John Gould. In short, a book I simply could not leave on the shelf, so I bought it.

Birds of Ireland: Facts, Folklore & History by Glynn Anderson

This is one of those rare and brilliant books that should be produced by authors in every country throughout the world, but for which we in Ireland seem to have the monopoly, in the form of this one outstanding example. Here’s a very nice sample regarding the Gannet (Morus bassanus):

 “Gannets must be careful to land exactly on their own territory as disputes can be deadly. Once down, the Gannet can only take off from well-defined and well-used ‘runways’. These runways are kept clear at the edges of the colonies and each Gannet must walk the gauntlet through other territories to reach them. The departing birds signal their intention by walking with their bills pointing directly into the sky as a swordsman would hold up his sword. Birds behaving so are granted passage but the ritual must be strictly adhered to…. The name ‘Gannet’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon ganot meaning ‘goose’. The Latin Morus bassanus translates  roughly as ‘Foolish Bird from Base Rock’ (in Scotland). The birds are also called Solan Geese on Northern Ireland and Scotland from the rock Sula Sgeir (Gannet skerry) or Solan Rock some forty miles off the northern Scottish coast.’

Red Grouse entry from the book.

While I was at Zoe Devlin’s book launch I got talking to one of the guests, who happened to be strolling around with a big camera taking photos of everyone to publicise the event. He said he had come to support Zoe because he had also had books published by the Collins Press, and introduced himself as Glynn Anderson –  I instantly recognised the name and asked if he was the same Glynn Anderson who was the enigmatic author of the above book: he was.

It is still incredible that after this massive success Glynn has been hidden from the media, and not picked up by television or radio: the research and writing of his bird book took five years! It is such a popular book that you would imagine the media would have him on speed-dial, having proven his expertise, and at least would expect an appearance in a wildlife documentary, but he managed to maintain his mysteriousness. So it seems the privilege falls to me to introduce this great naturalist to the world in the photo below.

Me in the middle, looking like Beelzebub with two newly captured souls, Glynn Anderson on the right of the photo (my left) and on the left (my right) another author, Niall MacCoitir, whose Ireland's Mammals: Myths, Legends and Folklore and Irish Wild Plants: Myths, Legends and Folklore, and two other books have been published by the Collins Press. Unfortunately I haven't had the opportunity to look at Niall's books yet, but they sound promising.

Glynn Anderson’s bird book (soon to be followed by his latest book, on cheese !) is available from Amazon:

Niall MacCoitir’s books are also available from Amazon:


Book launch!

Last week I attended the launch of botanist Zoé Devlin’s beautiful new book Wildflowers of Ireland: A Personal Record. Zoé was on hand to sign autographs of this magnificent tome – the book is a quality publication, produced by the Collins Press. There was a time when such lavishly illustrated books on Irish nature were unheard of, but the Collins Press have made a name with prestige volumes of this high quality, and it is very fortunate for anyone with an interest in Irish wildlife. That said, the book is heavy in construction (if you should find yourself in front of a firing squad it would be helpful to have a copy tucked under your shirt!), but laden with superbly-written information and detailed maps for each plant species, and absolutely fantastic photographs taken by Zoé. Anybody who is familiar with this blog will remember reading in June of how I came to meet Zoé and her husband John as they searched for rare Sea Kale along the Wicklow coast in June.

Zoé Devlin with her beautiful and lavishly illustrated Wildflowers of Ireland: A Personal Record.

The Collins Press produce books designed to stand the test of time, so although this a bit too heavy to serve as a field guide, it is a perfect reference, and the descriptions of folklore, medicinal application and personal encounters elevate this volume to a status far above anything you are likely to find in a typical book on the subject. For example, here is part of her description of Silverweed – Potentilla anserina:

“My first record of this plant is from the Vartry Reservoir near Roundwood, Co. Wicklow, in 1976 and I photographed it at Tacumshin Lake, Co. Wexford, in 2008.

Also called ‘Argentina anserina’, many of Silverweed’s names refer to its leaves; in French Richette and in Dutch Zilverkruid. These same leaves were, at one time, used as insoles in the shoes of tired walkers to ease their feet. The plant was also used as food for geese, hence its species name ‘anserina’ (anser = goose in Latin). In early times the roots of this plant were cultivated in some of the Scottish islands until potatoes were introduced. It is said that they taste somewhat like parsnips. The dried fruits were also ground and used like flour in bread-making.”

The beautiful cover: you can judge this book by it's cover! It's superb.
Just a sample of the layout of the book: each page contains superb photographs and detailed information, and beautifully-written anecdotes.

Clearly the sort of book that will be of interest to botanists, general purpose naturalists, folklorists, foragers, cooks, medicinalists and, of course, survivalists (so if you’re a fan of Ray Mears I’d say this book is for you).

There were quite a few scientists and TV personalities at this book launch, and the event was hosted by Gerald Fleming, known as the “winking weatherman” from his broadcasts on RTE television.

Cornered by two people armed with cameras, Gerald Fleming contemplates the inevitable photographs.

For anyone interested in spending the money on Zoé’s magnificent book (money well spent!) follow this link to (which lets you see more content too):