Philippa Skett is a keen biologist who enjoys all things creeping and crawling, and then writing all about them. She is an intern at the Society of Biology and is helping with the house spider survey.
Spiders are incredible creatures, but seem to get bad press on a regular basis. A lot of people often cite themselves as having arachnophobia and it is understandable why spiders may seem dangerous to their prey – these arachnids are efficient predators and use remarkable traits to catch and devour insects. However, spiders actually do a lot of good, and this autumn we want to find out as much as we can about house spiders here in the UK.
Spiders are known for their web building, but can actually be more sophisticated than designing the orb web usually associated with them. Spiders have the ability to create seven variations of silk and use them to manufacture complex traps, preserve meals for later, protect newly laid eggs and even construct parachutes to catch the wind and move across large bodies of water. Amazingly, this silk has a tensile strength similar to steel of the same width, making spiders the construction kings of the arachnid world.
They also are immensely important for the environment; an average spider eats around 2,000 insects a year so keep booming populations in check. They are great natural predators for pests in agriculture, or termites that damage buildings. In the South Pacific, natives even use webs to catch fish.
Here at the Society of Biology, the spiders we are most interested in is the common house spider (genus: Tegenaria) and we need as much information as possible on when they are beginning to appear. In the UK, male spiders will roam freely looking for a mate during autumn, and often will wander into your house, sheds or garages searching for a receptive female. They are very large, very hairy, but also very important in the environment as a key part of the food web.
If you come across a large house spider, you can use our online resources to work out exactly what spider you have found. You can even use our new smart phone app (for both Android and Apple phones) to submit where and when you have spotted the spider so we can collect data on their activity for our House Spider Survey, to work out exactly when and where the appearing.
If spiders still seem worrying, remember they won’t do you much harm. In the UK, we are lucky enough to have practically no dangerous species, so, when you see one scuttling around your house in an evening, relax! Out of all the species of spiders currently known (there are nearly 44,000) only 200 globally have venom that even has an adverse effect on humans.
So next time you poke around in your shed, come into the kitchen early in the morning, or look in the back of a cupboard, keep your eyes peeled for some Tegenaria spiders. Make sure you let us know what you’ve spotted, and help us understand better just what these critters are up to.