English Garden Spiders

Written by veronica james
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English Garden Spiders
Garden spider webs are intricate pieces of garden architecture. (Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Spiders are garden pest controllers and many species add their own intricate architecture to garden design. If you've ever gone into a garden at dawn, you won't have missed their dew-bejewelled webs stretched out ready to catch the first insects of the day. An English garden can be home to up to 100 different species of spiders, according to the British Arachnological Society, and the United Kingdom has nearly 700 species so far classified, forming part of the ecosystem that maintains balance in nature.

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Classification of English Spiders

The English naturalist Martin Lister catalogued the details of 38 species of English spiders in 1678, and his book is considered by the Natural History Museum in London to be an important study of these native arachnids. However, although written in Latin, his catalogue is based more on description than on the Linnaean classifications of the 18th century. It wasn't until the 1980s that a comprehensive list, "An Atlas of Yorkshire Spiders" by Clifford Smith in 1982, was compiled of the spiders throughout Yorkshire in the north of England, the first detailed study of its kind in the United Kingdom.

Biting Spiders

The Natural History Museum has identified only a dozen spiders in the United Kingdom that bite. Only five of these are identified as being specifically garden spiders: the walnut orb-weaver, lace weaver, black lace weaver, rustic wolf and the cross or garden species, all of which were first identified by Lister in the 17th century. Although the bites are not deadly to humans, they can be painful, and the museum reports that a dog bitten by a rustic wolf spider developed liver poisoning soon after being bitten.

Commonest English Garden Spider

Known as the cross spider or diadem spider because of the cruciate markings on its back, the garden spider, Araneus diadematus, weaves the familiar orb web suspended by anchor lines. It weaves a new one each early morning after eating the previous day's web. Flying insects that get caught are stuck fast by the adhesive glue secreted during the web weaving, leaving them helpless to escape. The spider envelops the prey in a shroud of silk and injects venom to dissolve the insect's interior before sucking it out.

Garden Spider Habitats

The English garden is usually a mix of habitats that encourage garden spiders. These habitats can include flower borders, lawns, trees and bushes, hedges and fences, garden ponds, vegetable plots and sometimes areas of rotted logs, weeds and wild flowers to encourage wildlife. Such a diverse choice gives rise to a plethora of insect life on which garden spiders prey; their traps are a wide range of sheets, orbs and tangles of silk depending on the species of spider.

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