Male spider is an endangered species


The autumn harvest continues to occupy most of my spare time just now.

A bumper crop of plums has been converted into chutney, brandy and a couple of gallons of wine, while the hedgerow bounty from the elderberry crop is a bit fiddlier to achieve.

Before being able to use for wine, they have to be removed from their stalks and this involves a tedious, back-breaking couple of hours hunched over a bucket, running them through the tines of a fork.

However, they have been safely converted into a rich ruby liquid, which is now bubbling away nicely in demijohns, in the airing cupboard.

One autumnal fruit which has so far eluded me this year is the sloe. Has there been a complete fruit failure this year, or am I not looking in the right places?

On a walk last weekend through the grounds of Eildon Hall, I saw lots of blackthorn, but it was all completely devoid of fruit.

At this time of year, an early morning walk after an overnight mist, reveals hundreds of gossamer hammocks in the grass and on hedgerows, indicating the presence of countless spiders.

Minute water droplets from the moisture-laden air highlight these amazing structures.

They are sheet webs as opposed to the more familiar circular structures and operate in a different way.

Instead of trying to trap insects by having them fly directly into them, these often have loose, irregular tangles of silk above them.

These tangled obstacle courses serve to disorient and knock down flying insects, making them more vulnerable to being trapped on the web below.

In my shed is a different type of web, next to the window. It is also sheet-like but has a round hole in the corner where the house spider lurks, waiting for an unsuspecting fly or moth to become trapped.

I have often watched in fascination as the trapped insect struggles to escape the sticky threads. The waiting spider immediately shoots out from its hiding place, despatches the victim with one swift bite, cuts it free, then dashes back with it to the safety of its hiding place to enjoy its meal.

I have tried fooling it by using a blade of grass to simulate a struggling insect, but it never works.

The spider must know by the vibrations that it’s me and stays put.

Male house spiders are usually seen more often than females, as they wander widely in search of a mate. After a male has found a female’s web he will stay with her for a number of weeks, mating with her repeatedly during this time.

He then dies and the female eats him; the nutrients within the male contribute to the development of his young.

If you want to know more about these fascinating creatures, there is an illustrated talk tonight (Thursday) in Galashiels on this very subject. Why not pop along to the Langlee Centre at 7.30pm and hear Chris Cathrine talking about Scottish spiders.

The evening is hosted by the local branch of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, but nonmembers will be made very welcome.