Another week and it’s another spider post. This time, it’s a spider that also likes posts.
One evening a couple of weeks ago I had logged off from work and went out into the garden to look at something other than an email. It was a warm evening and the sun was dipping below the surrounding roofs. I noticed a blemish on the fence, a place of macro dreams.
I identified the blemish immediately as a jumping spider but one bigger than the usual crowd. Even better, it was sitting still!
The grey-brown colouring of the spider helped to camouflage it against the sun-bleached wood of the fence. It was no surprise at all, when looking at my spider book later, that I learned this was a fencepost jumping spider!
Finding a jumping spider as relaxed as this and in an accessible position can raise the adrenaline levels, meaning you can lose composure and not get images that are in focus. That said, probably about 90% of macro photos I take are out of focus because the range is wafer thin. The stars aligned this time, however.
The spider was so still that there were no issues. It seemed quite interested by me and looked straight down the lens, as far as I could tell.
One of these images will certainly go down as portfolio worthy, at least in terms of happy memories. And really there’s no better place to end this post than looking into the eyes of Britain’s largest jumping spider!
In June I did a long walk in the Surrey Hills around the famous Box Hill. The North Downs are absolutely fantastic walking country, being so easily accessible from London via public transport, having some of the UK’s rarest wildlife, along with dramatic hilly landscapes and views.
I know that this blog has focused a lot on spiders this year. My spider knowledge is basic and these posts, their photos and required dip into spider ecology (arachnology) helps me to improve that knowledge. I recently purchased a spider ID guide (Britain’s Spiders by Bee, Oxford and Smith) and it’s helped me to gradually open a better understanding of these, well, misunderstood animals. I do wonder how much the tales of antipodean killer spiders has made people in England, where there are no venomous native spiders, needlessly fearful. Of course it’s different for arachnophobes.
My favourite group of spiders are the jumping spiders, the salticids. The first jumper I ever saw or photographed was one of the zebra spiders, of which we have three species in the UK. You can only identify them with microscopic assessment of their genitals, which is beyond this blog. Regardless, I found a zebra spider on the wall of my living room, which I now appreciate is just a giant invertebrate trap. I have actually also had a starling find its way in.
I knew this would be a good chance to try and get some good photos of the spider because there are few places to hide. I helped the spider onto my finger tip which, though the photo isn’t focused properly, does show how small (and harmless) it is.
And here is a reminder to you all of how most macro photos come out – out of focus. I suppose it’s half the fun.
Zebra spiders are beautiful inverts. Their name obviously comes from their black and white patterning.
One part of the spider that I really wanted to share is its fangs. They are seen below the pedipalps, what are effectively reporoductive organs for spiders. I presume the spider was hunting for prey, or perhaps even looking for a mate.
I helped the spider back out onto the windowsill where it wandered along the draught excluding brush. I hope it found what it was looking for (unless you were the thing it was looking for!).
*Update: this record has now been accepted as correct by the county expert and has become official 😁*
Most of the jumping spiders I find in my garden are sitting on the fence, LITERALLY.
The jumping spiders are a group of beautiful arachnids (spiders and arachnids are not insects FYI) that are renowned for their cartoon eyes and ‘cuteness’. There is something very ‘floofy’ about them. This video by Thomas Shahan has some lovely images of some American species:
I love to see them in my house, exploring the doors and window frames. One got into difficulty recently and was captured as prey by another window-dwelling species. Even the indoor parts of our homes are wild places at macro level.
Most of my macro is getting done through intensive 5 minute breaks during my working day, in which I take rushed and low quality photos (as seen here). I am stuck at a computer all week at the moment and these micro-macro garden safaris are keeping me ‘productive’.
I spent some of the time checking out one of the fences where I’ve found lots of interesting species like hornet-mimic hoverflies, digger wasps and jumping spiders (above).
During one break I noticed a tiny jumping spider exploring one of the posts and attempted some snaps. The pics are grainy and nowhere near portfolio quality, but that’s not what matters here. I put the photos on iNaturalist and an Italian spider expert gave an ID of Ballus chalybeius.
I tweeted the British Arachnological Society and they were happy enough that it was this family, with only one species within that family in the UK. Looking at the map of their records, it has not yet been recorded in this part of West Sussex. It’s also Nationally Scarce. Bingo!
One of conservation’s big problems in the UK is its insularity and misanthropic tendencies. Thankfully organisations like BAS are active on sites like Twitter to speak up for spiders and to engage with people online. Nature conservation in the UK is claimed to be better when bigger and more joined up. You could say the same for its ability to communicate and gather information. That’s me off the fence, then.