Spiders for Beginners

On Saturday 31st May, the Biodiversity Team at Sutton ran a course on spiders, which was lead by Dave Warburton with Tom Thomas from the British Naturalist Society. The training day was aimed at beginners to try and edge them into the world of spiders, dealing with the different groups and how to identify them.

The day started with a brief introduction to spiders, of which there are around 600+ species in the UK. The group then got to terms with learning different groups of spiders, including the Mygalamorphs (there is only 1 UK species: the purse-web spider) and the Araneomorphs. The Araneomorphs include the hunting spiders (wolf spiders, jumping spiders, spitting spiders), the ambushing spiders (crab spiders), and the web weaving spiders (orb weavers, cobweb spiders). Each of these groups are distinguished by their special method of capturing prey, from the hunters who actively search and attack prey, to the web weaving spiders who spin a silk web to entrap any insect that may fly by.

File:Araneus diadematus MHNT Femelle Fronton.jpg

European garden spider (Araneus diadematus) a common orb-weaving spider found in the UK

After a break for lunch the group were taken outside for an outdoor session, which involved using sweep nets and a beating tray to catch spiders on the grass and in bushes and branches. The group then got to have a closer look at the spiders they had collected under the microscope. Under higher magnification the anatomy and structure of spiders becomes a lot easier to see. For instance, we were clearly able to see the thrichobothria or fine hairs covering spiders. These long fine hairs are made of chitin and are able to detect vibrations and currents in the air. Identifying the difference between male and female spiders also becomes easier under the microscope, as males have distinctive ‘boxing gloves’ on the end of their pedipalps.

Close up of a male showing the pedipalps or ‘boxing gloves’

At the end of the day everyone had managed to get to grips with several different groups of spider and also the key characteristics to identify spiders. The training day gave a real insight into the diverse and complex world of spiders, and hopefully encouraged the group to get out there and practice their identification skills!

If you’re interested in attending any of our courses in the future, a full list of events can be found here. Or come along to ‘Grasses for Beginners’ on Saturday 21st June, our next event at Sutton Ecology.

Eleanor Kirby-Green

SNCV Biodiversity Assistant


3 thoughts on “Spiders for Beginners

    • Afraid we didn’t cover false widows in detail Ian! Part of the point of the article is that recognition to species level is really rather difficult, hence the microscope session in the afternoon! If you think you have false widows, you really need to capture one and have it confirmed by an expert. Happily, they are rather passive and not very poisonous at all (equivalent to a bee sting); contrary to what certain sections of the media would have you believe. 😉



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