Tag Archives: Fall

The Mouse Spider, for those who are worried

A few people have been asking me about the Mouse Spider, following a scary story in the media this week about a British man who was bitten by one which had somehow climbed into his bathrobe. The man had an allergic reaction causing his back to swell up, and it was because of his own knowledge of spiders he was able to identify the spider as a Mouse Spider (Scotophaeus blackwalli). The media went into overdrive, some reporting that the Mouse Spider is a close relative of the deadly Australian Sydney Funnel-web spider. This is a mistake – there are a number of species of spider in Australia known as Mouse Spiders, and they are related to the Sydney Funnel-web, but they are no relation to the much smaller European Mouse Spider. Here is a photo I managed to take of the European Mouse Spider in May 2015 – I haven’t seen one since then:

The common name for this species comes from the fact it has mouse-coloured hair on its abdomen – it is nowhere near as large as a mouse, and, in fact, appears quite a bit smaller than the so-called Giant House Spider (Eratigena atrica) which terrifies so many people in the autumn, when big long-legged males enter houses cruising for females. Here is one of these harmless terrors I photographed a few weeks ago:

The Mouse Spider is a stocky, slow-moving spider which is native to Northern Europe, including the British Isles, and widespread but very rarely encountered by ordinary householders. It tends to like bark and stones to live under, and will wander around at night, hunting small invertebrates by sneaking up on them. The female has a reputation for biting if handled, but it is a shy species and definitely doesn’t go looking for trouble. The body of the female would be about as large as the body of a female Giant House Spider, but the legs are far shorter and it is, in many ways, more handsome. The bites are usually harmless although definitely noteworthy, but an allergic reaction is always possible with any creature capable of biting or stinging.

The best way of keeping spiders out of your house is to not leave doors open at night, in the morning or approaching darkness, and to check outside before opening windows. Also, do clean your home regularly to prevent them making themselves comfortable.

October Twilight

October is a very strange time of year – September seems like an extension of summer, but colder, and then very suddenly October arrives and the flowers of summer begin to die off, the leaves yellow, or redden, or both, and fall off deciduous trees as the nights grow longer than the days. Everywhere gets gradually more muddy as leaves, flowers and berries decay on the ground.  But there is still a lot to see amid all the nostalgia of another year growing to an end.

There are still some Swallows flying about on their journey south back to Africa. It's a good time to see and photograph them as they perch on wires. The light might not be so good though.
There are still some Swallows flying about on their journey south back to Africa. It’s a good time to see and photograph them as they perch on wires. The light might not be so good though.

At this time of year our swallows, the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), tend to perch for long periods to rest their weary muscles before making their autumn migrations. There were definitely fewer of them around Wicklow this summer, which is slightly worrying as something must be preventing them arriving safely in Wicklow.

The Autumn Hawker dragonfly usually arrives in August to hunt butterflies and other insects. This year they didn't arrive until mid-September and you can still see them patrolling footpaths and garden driveways.
The Autumn Hawker dragonfly usually arrives in August to hunt butterflies and other insects. This year they didn’t arrive until mid-September and you can still see them patrolling footpaths and garden driveways.

Ironically our autumn was better than our summer this year, although not quite as warm, although certainly more stable. Eventually the annual arrival of big dragonflies occurred, the Migrant or Autumn Hawkers (Aesna mixta) and there are still a few around, although very difficult to photograph or video as they fly. I usually watch one land and slowly approach to get a good photo. If you move slow they will remain still.  But there are some other very interesting insects around, and some are both interesting and slightly creepy, such as this one:

A noctunal visito to a window, this large and handsome insect is a Burying Beetle.
A noctunal visito to a window, this large and handsome insect is a Burying Beetle.

Burying Beetles are quite closely related to chafer beetles (like the Cockchafer) and dung beetles, like the Common Dor Beetle. However, unlike these beetles, Burying Beetles lay their eggs in corpses which they find in the countryside, and they actually bury the animals they find underground. They are very intelligent creatures and very recently it was discovered (with the aid of special cameras) that they keep their larvae in nests and will feed them mouth-to-mouth, as birds do. Even more remarkable, the young ‘tweet’ when they’re hungry. This extremely handsome species is Necrophorus investigator (but there are many very similar ones and some even quite different. Watch out for them this autumn as they fly across the deep night skies.