Get out of the city and into na­ture

My in­ter­est in na­ture be­gan watch­ing ducks and grebes with my dad, and has con­tin­ued over the last 12 years via weekly visit to Welsh Harp Lake in my lunch breaks. I’ve been amazed at what can be ex­pe­ri­enced to close to the North Cir­cu­lar, Brent Cross and

Harefield Gazette - - LEISURE - with Roger Har­ri­son

SPI­DERS – not ev­ery­one’s favourite I know but very abun­dant at Welsh Harp Lake, with this be­ing one of the times of year when it seems as if their works of silken engi­neer­ing might ac­tu­ally be hold­ing to­gether the hedges and bram­ble banks that line the paths.

Some who know me would say that I love spi­ders, from my habit of fish­ing them out to show my kids, but what they’ve not no­ticed is that this usu­ally in­volves jam jars or VERY LARGE gar­den­ing gloves and in truth they have the ca­pac­ity to un-nerve me. They are how­ever quite amaz­ing, fan­tas­tic in their strange­ness: quite apart from their eight legs, they have eight eyes which can be ar­ranged in a va­ri­ety of sizes, com­bi­na­tions and po­si­tions de­pend­ing on the needs of dif­fer­ent species.

And then there are their webs, from the con­cen­tric cir­cles of the orb web spi­ders, to the densely wo­ven, or­gan­i­cally shaped tubes of fun­nel web spi­ders, each with its owner crouched in the en­trance, wait­ing.

My fo­cus here how­ever are the hunt­ing spi­ders, in par­tic­u­lar the nurs­ery web spi­der.

This, like the rest of its type doesn’t build a web to catch prey but chases it down, re­ly­ing on speed and good eye­sight for sur­vival. They are strik­ing an­i­mals, with long legs and slen­der bod­ies coloured in any­thing from light tan to rich chest­nut, with dis­tinc­tive cream stripes down their sides. These are first on dis­play in May when the spi­ders can be seen sun­bathing on leaves, pre­par­ing for the task of find­ing a part­ner.

They then dis­ap­pear for a cou­ple of months while mat­ing oc­curs, a pro­cess in which the males risk be­ing eaten. This seems bizarre to us, but it does make sense, for af­ter mat­ing the male’s job is done and he will die, but still his main con­cern is that his genes live on. This rests on his mate be­ing well equipped to raise their off­spring, and by be­com­ing a meal for her, he lit­er­ally gives all he can to help this hap­pen. The fe­males then demon­strate the rea­son for their name, emerging to spin a web which sur­rounds and bends grass stems to­gether, form­ing a pod to house her eggs and later the spi­der­lings be­fore they dis­perse.

She po­si­tions her­self close by to guard them and seems slower to flee on my ap­proach than she was back in May when sur­vival was her only con­cern.

The spi­der­lings will at­tempt to spend the au­tumn and win­ter hid­den away. Many won’t make it, in the pro­cess pro­vid­ing food for count­less other an­i­mals who would oth­er­wise have per­ished, but some will reap­pear in the spring to start their re­mark­able life cy­cle again.

n NO WEB TO WEAVE: Webs catch the sun­light at this time of year, but the nurs­ery w web spi­der (left) chases down its prey

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