Massive Garden spider

It’s been a little while, so time for an update! Summer lingered late into September, and I even found myself eating lunch al fresco in October last weekend. Autumn has finally landed however, with plenty of wet and wild weather to knock the leaves off the trees.

  • Garden spiders are everywhere, stringing their massive webs across paths, waiting to trap unsuspecting arachnophobes. The one pictured above was on the front my recycling bin and was about the largest I’ve ever seen. Absolutely massive!
  • One evening I watched a smaller male Garden spider tentatively approaching a female in order to mate. She wasn’t keen and batted him away a few times before he managed to get in there. I might post the video sometime soon.
  • I’ve run into a few foxes recently, in my own garden and whilst out running. I’m always a little nervous when only a couple of yards from a fox – you don’t know what they might do, especially if they’re desperately hungry, ill (usually mange) or feel threatened. Usually it’s “skulk away”.
  • Such a long hot dry period, and yet when the rains come, the slugs and snails are there right away in incredible numbers. I could imagine people of days gone by imagining that they actually come down in the rain itself overnight.


Thanks to Glyn, who sent in this picture of mystery eggs found in his garden, in a wet, cool spot under a concrete slab. They are in fact snail or slug eggs – I have no idea if it's possible to tell the difference easily. Presumably fairly big ones though.

Bristol Natural History Consortium has been running a Meet the Species initiative, as part of Discovering Places, the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Campaign to inspire the UK to discover their local environment. As part of this they've been publishing guest blog posts over the last week or so, as it draws to a close. There are two contributions from UKNatureBlog that were included today, on Zebra spiders and the Common Woodlouse (mostly drawn from content previously published here).

13. June 2012 · 2 comments · Categories: Molluscs

This is a Yellow slug crawling through a wormery that I saw at the London Green Fair recently. I mistakenly called it a Leopard slug at the time, not being particularly familiar with slug species and assuming that this spotted thing must be one. But now I know better having looked it up.

However if you've never seen a video of Leopard slugs mating, I suggest you do so right now – but not if you're eating or otherwise easily repulsed. It's truly bizarre.

It's been nearly two straight months with hardly a drop of rain in the South East – certainly here in Hertfordshire at UKNB HQ. But after many promising forecasts that came to nothing, finally we had a good downpour today, complete with sound and light effects.

Which made me wonder, where do all the slugs and snails go when it's so dry for so long? I suppose there was still some dew in the night, and the snails can hide in their shells for a while.

I spotted this quite large freshwater mussel in the shallow waters at the edge of a lake in Norfolk. Beneath the gunk it looks like it's probably quite a rich mixture of yellow/green/brown and I suspect it's a member of the Unionidae family as they look very similar. I don't see them very often, though apparently they're very common, especially in canals, though I remember finding a very large shell (perhaps 15cm) at the edge of a lake as a boy.

Update: thanks to Matt/Matthew who comments that it could be a Painter's Mussel (Unio pictorum) and I think he's absolutely right. Apparently the Painter's Mussel is so called because it made a perfect receptable for artists' paint!

If you've never looked at a woodlouse up close you might not notice how interesting and pretty they can be! I was particularly drawn to this one (admittedly a strange phrase given the subject) as it looked more colourful and patterned than the usual woodlice that I see, which are just a uniform grey. It also seemed to run about three times faster than woodlice I'm familiar with.

As usual with these things I feverishly looked it up, expecting to find that I had unveiled an exotic invader or even a whole new species, only to find that it is the "common woodlouse". So how come I haven't noticed these patterned ones before? I think the usual ones that sneak across the carpet must be the common rough or common shiny woodlice.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust have a great website with resources to help in surveying many different kinds of wildlife, from ponds to fungi. The forms are designed to be sent back to report on wildlife in Norfolk, but there's so much great information and guidance that they should be of interest to anybody.

It's always harder for a working person to get their fix of nature as the nights draw in and the weather turns foul. A lot of the more obvious animal life may also be retiring for the year, meaning there's less to see anyway. Dull days with grey skies can make photography that much harder, especially with long telephoto lenses that struggle to gather enough light for a fast shutter speed. What is a nature lover to do?

Well in my experience if you just stay indoors some of the nature will come to you. Woodlice in particular seem to be deciding that the warmth of the house is preferable to the cold outdoors at the moment and I find odd ones pretty much anywhere in the house, usually trundling speedily away from the front door where I think they're coming in. Next time, instead of throwing them back outside again I'll break out the macro lens and invite them to model for me!


Autumn is upon us it seems and for most that means less time outdoors enjoying nature. Which is a shame. But at least it presents a prime opportunity to pay more attention to snails, large and small that swarm across the wet surfaces of the garden. They actually move surprisingly quickly if you watch them – certainly fast enough to cause a bit of motion blur when trying to photograph them on a grey day.