Walnut Orb-weaver

Nuctenea umbratica

Walnut Orb-weaver (Nuctenea umbratica)

This was probably the very first digital photograph I had ever taken of a spider which I took back in 2005 when I bought my first digital camera, hence the drop in quality. But this delightfully named spider is such an interesting one I wanted to add it to my blog.

This is a dark coloured spider, where the males and females are quite similar. Both sexes maybe be slightly darker in colour, or so dark that the lighter margins maybe indistinguishable or be reduced to a series of pale dots. Body length up to 14mm.

Walnut Orb-weaver (Nuctenea umbratica)

This spider may bite humans, causing skin irritation which can be quite painful resulting in burning and itching sensations, redness and white lumps. It is a nocturnal hunter, and spins its web just before dark to catch moths and other nocturnal insects.

Walnut Orb-weaver (Nuctenea umbratica)

Females are seen all year round, where as the males are seen in the summer. Found in woods and gardens, hiding under the bark of trees, especially rotten stumps or logs. They can also be found resting on fence posts and gates. It is common and widespread throughout Britain, although not frequently seen.

Photographs of Walnut Orb-weaver (Nuctenea umbratica), taken June 2005 , rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2005. Camera used Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1.

Missing-sector Orb Weaver

Zygiella x-notata

Missing-sector Orb Weaver (Zygiella x-notata)

The males and females of the species are very similar, but the males being smaller in dimensions. They have slightly elongated, more flattened abdomens compared to other members of the genus. It has a dark, broad median longitudinal band on the prosoma (the fused head and thorax region, also called the cephalothorax), on a lighter yellowish-brown ground colour. The dorsal surface of the abdomen is covered in a broad band with indented edges (the folium), white-edged with a darker interior and a lighter median line. Body length up to 7mm.

Missing-sector Orb Weaver (Zygiella x-notata)

Missing-sector spiders have an unfinished-looking vertical circular web design which makes it appear damaged in someway. There is indeed a missing sector, a ‘large V’ shape opening. The missing sector seems an odd evolutionary design whereby the webs capture area is reduced, but this space accommodates the signal thread which helps to alert the spider which is concealed in a corner when prey are snared. They feed on flies and other small flying insects caught in its web.

Missing-sector Orb Weaver (Zygiella x-notata)

The adults are seen from July to around October, whilst the spiderlings emerge in early spring. It is commonly found in urban areas, around buildings in gardens. A common and widespread species, but sparser further north, especially in Scotland.

Of note, Clerck named the species x-notata due to his observations of the astronomical sign of Pisces seen on the spider’s upper forepart of the abdomen, an ‘X’ shape.

Photographs of Missing-sector Orb Weaver (Zygiella x-notata) taken March 2014 and July 2015, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2014 and 2015. Camera used Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.

Spinning Around

Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus)

I came across this Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus) busy spinning a new web in my garden.

Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus)

Photograph of Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus), taken August 2016, rear garden , Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D7200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.

A Deady Game of Survival

Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus)

I guess the fight for survival could have gone either way in the above image. I came across this Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus) in its orb web with a nicely wrapped up food parcel. This food parcel was a social wasp, most likely the Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris), and if it had got a sting in it could have been over for the spider. I suppose it all depends on how wrapped up the wasp had become in the web, and how weak it was. Either way, the spider got its lunch.

Photograph of Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus) with the Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris), taken August 2016, rear garden , Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens with softbox flash diffuser.


Photograph of Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus), taken August 2016, rear garden , Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens with softbox flash diffuser.

Nursery Web Spider

Pisaura mirabilis

A variable spider, with either bold markings or they may be abscent. The colour ranges from grey to yellowish, to dark brown. Males are similar to females, but they have slighly smaller abdomens which is quite clearly marked. Body length up to 15mm.

The females  make tent-like nursery webs just before the spiderlings hatch which she guards. She also carries the eggs in a ball beneath her body which she holds in her jaws. Spiders of this family do not construct webs to catch their food but hunt their prey on the ground, or on the surface of still water. They feed on insects and other invertebrates.

The adults are seen June to August. Found in grassland, heathland, and woodland clearings. The adults enjoy basking in the sun. Common and widespread throughout.

Nursery Spiders are known for their unusual courtship behaviour, in which the female requires a present from the male before mating, an insect wrapped in silk.

Photographs of Nursery Web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis) taken March and May 2014, found in rear garden and near a local pond, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2014. Camera used Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.

Mouse Spider

Scotophaeus blackwalli

I come across this usually in the garden, but sometimes in the house as well. A brownish, furry hunting spider with silvery abdominal hairs, and moves in a similar manner to a mouse. Body length up to 12mm.

It is a nocturnal hunter of invertebrates.

Seen throughout the year, but mainly in the summer and autumn months Found in and around houses, garages, sheds, and other outbuildings. Common and widespread throughout the UK.

Photographs of Mouse Spider (Scotophaeus blackwalli) taken July 2014, found in house, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2014. Camera used Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.

A Zebra In The Back Garden

These small jumping spiders are quite distinctive with their black or dark brown and white stripe markings, hence their vernacular name of ‘Zebra Spider’.  The males and females have slightly differing patterning. The females can grow up to 7mm long, the males up to 6mm.

They feed on aphids and other small invertebrates.

They reach maturity in the summer. This is one of the most commonly seen of the jumping spiders, and maybe observed on walls, fences and even outbuilding doors in bright sunshine gathering warmth, and whilst hunting. They are common and widespread throughout Great Britain.

Photographs taken May and  June 2014, rear garden, Staffordshire.

Garden Spider

Araneus diadematus

Males and females are alike, except males have smaller abdomens. There is a fair variation in body colour, with some being pale yellow to brown, and others being almost black. The white cross-shaped, dotted markings are usually quite distinct., which lead it to be sometimes called the ‘Cross Spider’. The legs are light and dark banded. Body length females up to 18mm, males up to 8mm.

Garden Spiders are from a family of spiders called Orb Web Spiders, of which they have most distinctive vertical and circular webs. They have a central hub with radiating lines and spirals of sticky and non-sticky silk. The spider normally sits in the centre of the web waiting to catch its prey. It feeds on flies and other winged insects which may fly into their webs.

They mature summer to autumn, but are most often seen in autumnal months within their webs suspended and glistening like tiny beads of pearls in the early morning dew. Found in bushes and other vegetation in woodland, heathland, and gardens. They are common and widespread.

Photographs taken September 2012 (male and females), July and August 2015 (females), front and rear gardens, Staffordshire.

Just Hanging Around


You may have met this character before in a previous post of mine. His name is Daddy Long-legs Spider (Pholcus phalangioides). He is always in the same spot in my garage, hanging upside down at the base of the wall by the side door. He has chosen his spot well, for the ants have found a way in here, too,  and the clever one here intercepts them on their path, picking them off when he fancies a snack.

For more information on this spider please visit the previous post Something Alien.

Something Alien

Daddy Long-legs Spider (Pholcus phalangioides)

Whenever I see this species of spider I find the way it holds itself as it clings to a surface makes it look quite alien. I mainly find these in my garden sheds or garage, and occasionally they will venture indoors into my home.

Also called the ‘Cellar Spider’, this spider has distinctively long slender legs. The carapace and abdomen are pale greyish-brown. Body length up to 10mm in both sexes.

When they are disturbed they vibrate their bodies rapidly and become a blur to put off predators. The females carry their fairly large and visible eggs in their jaws. They predate on other insects, catching them in their sticky webs, and then grasping them with their long spindly legs.

Seen all year round. This spider is often found upside down in a loose, almost formless web in sheds, garages, and other outbuildings, houses and always indoors. They are also found in caves. Commoner in warmer climes and fairly widespread.

Photographs taken April 2007, garden shed, May 2012, on garden bin, June 2014, on rear fence, and July 2015, rear garden, Staffordshire.

Nurturing Mother Nature

It is always a wonder to me when I witness something special in nature which I have only read about or heard about. I knew the female Nursery Spider (Pisaura mirabilis) was a dedicated mother to her offspring, building tent-like nursery webs just before the spiderlings hatch which she guards. She also carries the eggs in a ball beneath her body which she holds in her jaws.

Photographs taken June 2016, local field margin, Staffordshire.

Cucumber Green Spider

Araniella cucurbitina

The female has a creamy coloured cephalothorax with a bright green abdomen and yellow stripes. The smaller male also has a bright green and yellow striped abdomen, but has an orangish cephalothorax with two brown curving stripes. Both sexes have a distinctive red spot at the end of their abdomen. There are several species similar to this, especially Araniella opisthographa, which is virtually indistinguishable except through genitalia examination. Body length females 4-6mm, males 3.5-4mm.

It feeds on flying insects caught in its web.

Seen summer to autumn, and found on low vegetation, bushes and trees in various habitats, including woodland edges, hedgerows and gardens. Common and widespread throughout.

Photographs taken May 2015, on climbing rose in rear garden, Staffordshire.