Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Invasion of the spiders

Garden cross spider
Garden cross spider
Wasp spider
Spitting spider

Arachnophobes have been warned of an apparent surge in the number of spiders.

Conservationists claim breeding conditions have been perfect this year for the eight-legged creepy-crawlies and say an abundance of available food, like midge flies, means they are even bigger.

It is thought the good spell of weather during June helped many young spiders to survive the summer — and with autumn being breeding season there could be an explosion of spiders in our homes and gardens.

University of Ulster insect expert Professor Keith Day said: “The weather conditions in June were particularly good, because we had long warm periods after a damp winter with relatively low wind speed, which is all good for many flying insects which breed at that time of year.

“A higher survival and higher reproductive rate in things like small flies and midges would have really helped boost that part of the food chain for spiders to survive well through the summer, so that at this time of year, when you tend to see spiders more anyway because they have reached maturity and are building orb webs, they will have benefited from that stimulus earlier in the year.”

The apparent increase in reported sightings has spurred a leading nature charity to launch a nationwide ‘spider hunt’.

Buglife, whose motto is “conserving the small things that run the world”, wants people to record the numbers and types of spiders found in homes, gardens and sheds this weekend.

None of Britain’s 650 spider species is harmful and only the noble false widow can even give a bite that would cause discomfort.

The ones most commonly found in Northern Ireland are the hairy house, daddy longleg, true window lace-weaver and the common false widow spiders. But while they may look frightful or ugly, naturalists say it is important to tolerate them.

Matt Shardlow, Buglife’s director, said: “Britain is very bad for spider phobia — it’s worse here than in countries where they do have venomous species. I don’t think we’re genetically hard-wired for it, I think it has a social origin — people react to other people’s fear.”

Added Professor Day: “Generally speaking, I think people should be pleased that there are more spiders because it provides food for other organisms, particularly birds in the garden, and even small mammals like shrews will eat insects and feed on spiders.

“For example, the wren spends the winter going through leaf litter and turning over leaves and picking out spiders, so the more spiders there are it’s better for some creatures.” However, Professor Bob Elwood from Queen’s University said claims that spider numbers had increased were unfounded.

“I have not seen any increase this year in Co Down. I see them every year. I see no difference with previous years — some are somewhat less — because I have been looking for them.

“I am fairly sceptical.”

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