Today the exact moment of the Summer Solstice occured at 5.38 pm Summertime (4.38 pm GMT), but in practical terms and astronomical ones, this is only the beginning of summer in Wicklow. We have had a dry but cold spring and only in the last two weeks has it become properly and consistently warm. There is still Cuckoo-spit on many of the hedgerow plants, the strange protective covering of bubbles worn by froghopper nymphs. And there in the flowers there are Flower Crab Spiders hiding in plain sight, and some of them will not be alone, as in the case of this photo below:
Also, keep an eye out for the remarkably bright green-coloured Cucumber Orb-weaver aka Green Orb-weaver (Araniella cucurbitina ) which makes a tiny web, usually in the middle of large leaves, curling their edges. It hangs upside down from this so its amazing colours are often not quite so obvious, but it has a red spot on the underside rear of its abdomen.
All you need to know about orb-weaver spiders is that they produce the classic spider webs, the really beautiful ones. The largest of the family you are likely to see will be the Garden Spider, which has been covered often on this blog. Anyhow, this time of year, which has always been associated with powerful magic, is indeed a magical time.
Yes, it’s hard to imagine, but we really are having a balmy January in Wicklow. It’s dry, semi-cloudy, bright and sunny (or moonlit if after dark) and the days are getting noticeably longer, although they are not long by any stretch of the imagination. But it feels wonderful, there’s something very positive and spring-like in the air. And the plants and animals are feeling it too.
Just to show how warm it is, there are slugs to be found, glistening beautifully as they attempt to raid cat food from bowls or just cruising along exploring. Even a hint of frost will cause these creatures to hide, but this year they are very happy with the conditions.
Under the eaves of house and sheds you can find spiders, mostly the usual suspects: Zygiella x-notata (the so-called Missing-section Orb-weaver), and the much larger Steatoda nobilis False Widow. However, there is a beautiful and extremely exotic-looking spider you might also find, another species of orb-weaver (building the classic spider-web design), Araneus marmoreus, one of the most variable species of spider, no two specimens having the exaqct same markings. The one in the photo is a common variety in Wicklow, having a remarkable gold stripe down its back.