The daffodil bud from my last bulletin has only opened now, but crocuses have risen above ground, and I have also found the fleshy leaves of tulips! However, these flowers all appeared last year around this time, or even a little later, and we still got some very heavy snow and cold conditions later in the year, in March.
Before things got too interesting this spring I wanted to do something about False Widow spiders. According to this January’s issue of the BBC Wildlife Magazine there is a wave of terror in England, particularly around London, caused by the presence of these venomous spiders. And, more worryingly, pesticides are being used in an ad hoc way to placate public fear, and pesticides are far more dangerous than any False Widows. Two species of False Widow spider are venomous and can bite people, but they are not aggressive, and to prove this I have made a video in which I handle a good size Noble False Widow spider, with no ill-effects. Here is that video:
It’s that time of the year again, and to help you identify those arachnids which are showing up in your gardens and around your homes here is a little video I made to help with identification. Arachnophobes might find some of the images a little frightening, but they’re over and done with quite quickly, so don’t be too frightened. Remember, I’m on the other side of the camera, between you and the spiders. You’re completely safe. And they don’t want to hurt you anyway.
Many spiders are very similar, and there is a lot of worry of some of them due to the colonisation of Ireland by False Widows in such numbers these days. The spider that is mostly mistaken for a False Widow is the very common Missing-sector Orb-weaver, Zygiella x-notata, which is found around the windows of houses in huge numbers. Zygiella doesn’t get to be as big as False Widows can, but since many False Widows encountered are not fully grown, then confusion is inevitable. What Zygiella does is spin a classic spider-web across the front of windows so that insects flying to the windows at night will crash into them and become entangled.. Most orb-weaving spiders spin their webs across fly-ways in the same way that poachers cast nets across rivers. But remember, the False Widows don’t do this because they target different prey. So the dozens of spiders camped around the outside of your window-frames will almost certainly be Zygiella and not False Widow. But they have a very similar body-shape and markings on the back can be superficially similar. Zygiella is usually much brighter and tends to have a silvery appearance.
On the other hand, the male Steatoda grossa False Widow, which has been recorded in Ireland since the late 19th century, can be mistaken for a House Spider, as it has very long legs and tends to scuttle along the ground and will enter houses simply by walking into them, and in this manner is extremely different to the more robust-looking Steatoda nobilis male. Unlike the females, they are not known to bite, but these spiders can get quite large (about as big as a mediu-sized House Spider) and will frighten most people. The markings on the abdomen have a checker-board appearance like the classic markings of the female.