This late summer and early autumn our house has been invaded. It has become open-house to daddy longlegs and spiders. I don’t know if it is just us but there seem to be more of the blighters this year and the spiders, at least, seem to be much bigger.
Our garden having a large number of shrubs and me being reasonably tall, I am forever walking into a spider’s web when I am out for my nocturnal perambulations and end up looking like a male version of Miss Haversham by the time I get back into the house.
And the very act of getting into the house – opening a door into a lighted room – seems to guarantee that a daddy longlegs will creep in. When we are sitting down in our living room we will often see a large hairy spider scuttle across the carpet. This will provoke a request from TOWT for me to do something about it and a chase round the furniture for me trying to catch it.
Those in the know tell us that we are right in the middle of the spider mating season – it runs from August to December – and the majority of arachnids we see are males scuttling around on the look-out for a female partner. The relatively mild summer has been a good one for invertebrates – I’m pleased to hear it – and this has meant that there is a glut of prey for spiders to eat which in turn has meant that they have grown larger than is the norm. That’s cleared that up then!
A common mistake is to think that a daddy longlegs is a type of spider. It is not. There are some key and crucial differences – the daddy longlegs has its head, thorax and abdomen fused into one whereas a spider has a distinct waist between its abdomen and cephalothorax. As an opilionid, the daddy longlegs has just two eyes as opposed to the eight of the arachnid – the profusion of eyes and limbs, I believe, are what make spiders seem scary. Daddy longlegs don’t produce silk to ensnare their prey and have a penis, unlike the male spider which has small leg-like features on their head, pedipalps, which they use to transfer sperm to the female.
Anyone who has tried to catch a daddy longlegs and shepherd it out of the room will know that the creature has a propensity to shed its legs to evade capture. They use their legs to sense vibrations, smells and tastes.
Whisper it quietly to any arachnophobe but there some 660 species of spiders to be found in Britain. If, like me, you wouldn’t know one from another there is help at hand, courtesy of the Society of Biology. They have recently released an app called Spider in da House – even entomologists have to get down with the yoof it seems these days – which handily describes and pictures 12 of the most common arachnids to be found in our houses and provides a guide to distinguish males from females. I’m not quite sure about this. I can’t imagine mid-pursuit of some hairy spider I will be calling up the app to make a precise identification of my prey. Still, if you want to distinguish your Tegenaria genus from your Arraneus didaematus, you know where to go.
I would just rather they found somewhere else to mate and left me alone!