Saturday, 11 October 2014

October spiders

I found quite a number of spiders today in a trip to my local wildlife garden. It was mild and sunny. Some spiders basked on the wall, like a couple of young Nursery Web spiders, Pisaura mirabilis, and a wolf spider (Pardosa sp.). Nearby, a pair of Linyphia triangularis. As I went for a walk today, I was surprised by a mature Araneus diadematus female hanging from a tree (above). She might have been disturbed in her web possibly by a bird and dropped to safety on her line of silk. When it is foggy, I have seen these spiders webs quite high up in trees.
Several Pisaura mirabilis, sat on the painted leaves on the sunny wall.
This one seems to have regenerated a few legs, notice that some legs are shorter and paler than the rest. These nursery web spiders will overwinter soon.
As will young wolf spiders, Pardosa sp. which were also on the wall.
A Linyphia triangularis, males guard the female web in this species, fighting any contenders with their long cheliceae. The female is on the left, the male - out of focus - on the right.
Metellina male with present for female? Male Metellina sp. will capture prey before attempting to court a female, and then mate with her as she is entertained with the present ('nuptial gift' as it is called). I found this mature male today and wondered if that is why it was carrying this present. Unfortunately, I didn't see the female.
And on the playground, under a window frame painted with some street art, this pink and fully grown Araneus diadematus.
I found this male Amaurobius similis on the kitchen wall, on the prowl tonight. It measured 8 mm long. I got a good view of palps allowing for species ID.
For more October spiders, check out the Flickr group #Arachtober or on twitter.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Hitchhiker crickets

For about a couple of weeks, my six year old daughter has been telling me about the crickets in her school playground. Crickets? surely they would be grasshoppers, I said dismissively. I shouldn't have doubted her identification abilities, as she confidently pointed at oak bush crickets when presented with photos in a field guide, and my husband and son also confirmed it. I was most intrigued, as bush crickets are rare north of the Humber. Last week I spent an embarrassing amount of time searching for the mystery crickets while the kids played after school, while other parents I know looked at me as if I was going nuts. 'I put in on the tree this morning', my daughter would said, 'I've seen four, no... five' I wondered if the kids throwing sticks to get at the conkers was also dislodging the crickets from the chestnut tree at play time. I searched and searched, and, although I did find some Field Grasshoppers, Chorthippus brunneus, nearby there was no sign of the crickets, so frustrating!
  Today, at school pick up time, she told me she had rescued one from a puddle under the chestnut tree. I searched and initially found none, but finally, I founf a live female and a very squished male on the ground, hoorray! Both were collected and taken home, and to my surprise they turned to be the Southern Oak Bush Cricket, Meconema medidionale, distinguished from the related Oak Bush Cricket by its stumpy wings and larger male cerci. Oak Bush Crickets are nocturnal and live in trees canopies, so they are thought to be under recorded, although they are attracted to light, so they turn up inside houses in the summer. Instead of singing by stridulating with their wings like other crickets do, males attract females by drumming with their rear legs on the substrate, and this sound can be audible up to 1 m away. They are predatory crickets, and feed on small insects like aphids and leaf-miners (including those of Cameraria ohridella, the Horse Chestnut leaf miner). Despite their name, they occur in many tree and bush species and are a late species, with adults found from mid August up to the first frosts.
 Since the 1960s, the Southern Oak Bush cricket expanded its distribution range from its original homeland in Italy throughout large areas of Northern Europe, and is now also found in North America. It was recorded in the UK for the first time in the autumn of 2001, and since then, it has spread north up to Nottinghamshire. Given its flightlessness, it is surprising how fast they are expanding. A study systematically searching for this species in the recently colonised Slovak and Czech Republics found that they are found mainly in urban habitats like parks or campsites, often with localised populations near car parks and main roads, suggesting that they might be dispersed passively by vehicles, especially trucks and caravans. They are, unexpectedly, often found on vehicles.
 The fact that several individuals are present suggests that the crickets have been around for a while in the school grounds. Would a teacher returning from a visit down south might be responsible from the introduction of this cricket species in Hull?
The squished male
Side view of the female
UPDATE 8/10/2014
We released the female on the chestnut tree. Although she had lost a leg, she was quite capable of jumping, and hid under a shrivelled leaf. I found a freshly dead male in the same spot, quite intact. Here he is. Look how much longer his antennae are compared to the female.


More information
British Orthoptera & Allied insects page. Here.

Grabenweger, G., Kehrli, P., Schlick‐Steiner, B., Steiner, F., Stolz, M., & Bacher, S. (2005). Predator complex of the horse chestnut leafminer Cameraria ohridella: identification and impact assessment. Journal of Applied Entomology, 129: 353-362.

Vlk, R., Balvín, O., Krištín, A., Marhoul, P., & Hrúz, V. (2012). Distribution of the Southern Oak Bush-cricket Meconema meridionale (Orthoptera, Tettigoniidae) in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Folia Oecologica 39(2) 155-165.

Liana, A., & Michalcewicz, J. (2014). Meconema Meridionale Costa, 1860 (Orthoptera: Tettigonioidea: Meconematidae)–The First Record In Poland. Polish Journal of Entomology, 83(3), 181-188.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Nervous sac spider

I met this spider while upturning a garden chair. She walked steadily on the ground, and blankly refused to settle on the white bowl. She jumped a few times like a jumping spider! I had to take the photos while she settled briefly on my plastic pot on top of the while bowl. The is a relatively large sac spider, Clubiona sp. (possibly reclusa), around 9 mm long, with very dark chelicerae. Females a silk cell in a folded leaf containing their egg sac

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Blue lace web spider portrait

I enticed some blue lace web spiders, Amaurobius similis, out of their retreats gently spraying their webs with water. They are shy spiders and might swiftly come inside when realising it is not prey, but some stay out long enough. The one above was one of several in ivy, where I find they are quite common. She looks lovely, both powerful and fresh. The one below, a much darker individual lives on the corner of my fence. Both are mature females, the size of a honeybee.

Hawthorn shieldbug and garden spiders

 At this time of year it is hard not to notice Araneus diadematus, the garden spider. You walk through their orb webs when walking on paths with many hanging by each other by the dozens in front gardens. Most of the individuals you see on their webs now are females. Males have reached maturity and forgot about feeding: mating is the only thing in their mind, so they move across stealthily, in search of just mature fertile females. Many of the females are now just growing their eggs, fattening up, feeding on the many insects still flying in the mild september. The one above got a Hawthorn Shieldbug and rapidly rolled it up with silk, biting it repeatedly. The stink of the bug seems not to bother the spider. It was a dry afternoon, so the tiny dropplets visible on the silk threads on the bottom-left corner of the photo are probably the glue what makes the web sticky.
 I have been photographing garden spiders in the last few days. They are an easy subject. You can find the same individuals day after day in the same spot and you can get very close without disturbing them.
I tried a white background with this one, placing a white card behind the spider outside.
This is the largest spider around, in a very leafy front garden.