It’s amazing what you see sometimes as you travel through your own backyard. I spied this female Araneus diadematus some days ago. She is really quite a big individual and had made a large orbweb stretched between a plant pot and some shrubbery. Here she has a good meal ready to go in the shape of a Hawthorn Shieldbug .. in fact, to my crazy mind, she looks like a band member ready to knock out a tune on it.
The next day, on the late afternoon, I spotted the handsome male Araneus diadematus apparenty repairing and tidying her web for her at a distance. But he had also spun a strong silken quick release safety line … more on that later.
In the above image we can see how large the female is compared to the male. She looks rather intimidating … and she is. I watched as the male Araneus diadematus tentatively approached her along the web, getting a little closer, the female closing the gap … and the male backing off from time to time keeping a little distance between them. He was testing the waters, and so he should. Female Araneus diadematus practices sexual cannibalism before and after insemination. One thing in his favour is the large food package she already has nicely wrapped up … but he certainly didn’t want to be seconds.
Eventually they closed the gap but he was still very sheepish and kept darting back … and on a couple of occasions when he must have read the situation as potentially dangerous rather than amorous he used his pre-made quick release safety line to swing back a good distance out of harms way. They must have been playing this cat and mouse courtship game for a couple of hours … and I don’t know what the outcome was in the end for the male. The next day had seen overnight rain which had damaged some of the web, but the female was found sheltering under a leaf. The male was nowhere to be seen. He was either inside her as last nights late supper … or he had gone off in search of another mate with an extra swagger to his gait.
Sexual cannibalism in spiders is a long-standing evolutionary paradox because it persists despite extreme costs for the victim, usually the male. Several adaptive and nonadaptive hypotheses have been proposed to explain this phenomenon, but empirical studies are still scarce and results are inconclusive.
It is very rare I come across a male Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus) in my garden, or anywhere else for that matter. I think it was attracted to the UV light of my moth trap and became mesmerised by it.
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.
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.