Posted by: Ross Gardner | August 27, 2014

A beastly beauty

Spiders will to some extent always polarise opinion.  Some of those who aren’t keen may perhaps have their ‘creepy-crawly’ misgivings tempered by an appreciation of the spider’s often stunning ingenuity and the undoubted wonder and beauty of their webs on those dewy early autumn mornings.  Fewer would be given to extol the beauty of the animals themselves.

There is one, I think, that could convince a few more on this last point.  The Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi) is a striking and, dare I say, beautiful creature.  They are also on of our scarcer species, confined largely to Southern England.  With an image included below, it hardly seems necessary, nor very easy to add any more with words, except to say that it is quite unmistakeable among the British Arachnid fauna.  This is at least the case with the females.  With a body length of up to 15mm they are also one of our larger spiders, but the males are quite different.  He has a decidedly drab appearance and is only about a third of the size.  Mating for him is a fraught affair, often resulting in him comprising a post-nuptial meal for the female, sometimes even while still engaged in the act.  Such cannibalistic behaviour is well-known with some species of spider (if a somewhat over-stated in some instances), yet the reasons for it are apparently unclear.  Perhaps the male is ‘sacrificed’ so as to give his progeny the best possible start in life by providing a nutritious meal to the female and her soon to develop eggs?  Perhaps she simply eats him because she can?

This is a spider that likes to hang its web in long grass and quite close to the ground.  These are as distinctive as their architects, with the large orb-web (they are in the some family – Araneidae – as the very common and familiar Garden Spider which adorns our autumn gardens and hedgerows with a similar construction) decorated with a zig-zagging band of silk through the centre.

The Wasp Spider is a true beauty, which even if spiders aren’t your bag should nevertheless at least be admired…… even if from an appropriate distance.

Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi - Hadleigh Country Park, Essex.  Copyright 2014 Ross Gardner.

Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi – Hadleigh Country Park, Essex. Copyright 2014 Ross Gardner.

 

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Responses

  1. Hi there!

    I have recently seen several of these in the South East London area, one in Bexley and one in a park in Catford, Lewisham while doing my dissertation project. Is this a rare siting in this area? Should I report this to someone? They are truly impressive and beautiful little things!

  2. Hi Poppy

    It’s always good to hear about creatures like these finding space to live within our urban landscapes. They are pretty stunning.

    A look at the known UK Wasp Spider distribution (see link below) suggests that they have occurred across London, although on the whole not exactly common. Your local natural history society (http://www.sidcupnature.org.uk) may still nevertheless be interested in your sightings.

    http://srs.britishspiders.org.uk/portal/p/Summary/s/Argiope+bruennichi

    Ross


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