Celebrating the Wild Side of Yorkshire’s Coast & Country:
Bring on the giant spiders
Towards the late summer, especially with warm, humid weather then you can look forwards to seeing Tegenaria duellica, the Common House Spider, in and around our homes. Indeed, a good, long, warm, Indian summer, can bring out some real brutes. I have had them with legs so long, that when held in my hand, they extended beyond my fingertips. In fact, they do become more noticeable in autumn anyway because this is their mating season. The ones which tend to be seen (and which potentially cause hysteria, in those so afflicted), are the long-legged males in search of a female. These are often seen scuttling across a room or vainly trying to climb out of a bathtub into which they have fallen. The males have longer legs than the females and the females have broader abdomens than the males for holding the developing eggs. In darker corners of outhouses, cellars or attics, or behind bookcases and the like, they make a thick sheet web, around six to nine inches across, sometimes more. Look carefully if you dare, and you will see that the web has a tubular retreat at its rear. This is where the spider sits and waits for its dinner to drop in. As a group, sometimes these spiders are called tunnel-webs or funnel-webs, but they should not be confused with the seriously toxic and highly aggressive Australian spiders of that name. By comparison, our spiders are just cute, cuddly little things.
We have several members of the ‘House Spider’ family and they are all pretty much the grey-brown spiders with long hairy legs, and identification to species is a job for the expert. I take the view that these are predators and probably eating things in the house that I would prefer were not there. Therefore, they are doing a good job. I know not everyone agrees with this perspective, and of course, the House Spiders will give you a nip if you pick them up. They are generally unable to pierce our skin and for the most part their toxins are not particularly nasty anyway. Just occasionally, one of the more aggressive and larger species can cause a bad reaction, but that is unusual. The still rare, and in Britain, alien species the False Widow Spider is coming into season in parts of England, especially in southern counties. This is one of the very few quite nasty spiders over here and fortunately, you won’t meet one in our region, at least not yet. However, do watch out for the big House Spider, which is both useful and harmless. Our two biggest species are Tegenaria gigantea and the ‘Cardinal Spider’ or Tegenaria parietina, so-named because at Hampton Court, they used to terrify Cardinal Wolsey, and they do have exceptionally long legs. This is their time! But aren’t they cute?!
Ian Rotherham, Writer, Broadcaster, Professor of Environmental Geography, Reader in Tourism & Environmental Change