Introduction to spiders

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Spiders have a bad reputation, partly because they turn up unwanted in houses, partly because some species - but none resident in the UK - are deadly poisonous. Their most striking feature is their ability to produce silk, which they use for many purposes: to spin webs to catch prey, to build cocoons or other structures to protect their young, to escape from difficult situations, and even for transport - clinging to a thread of silk to be carried long distances by the wind. They also have eight legs, compared to the six legs of insects, and most of them are predators or parasites of insects.

There are more than 600 different species of spider in the UK, about half of which are tiny, and you are likely to find 50 to 100 species in the average garden. The wasp spider is one of the most striking, spinning its web in rough grassland to catch crickets and grasshoppers.

The nursery web spider, by contrast, spins a web to protect its young rather than to catch prey, and stays nearby to guard them. The crab spider dispenses with a web altogether, sitting on a flower to wait for unwary prey to arrive.

Photo © Tony Gunton