Howard sent this picture, wondering whether it was a walnut orb weaver, or a melanic garden spider. My dictionary describes melanic as "unusual darkening of body tissues caused by excessive production of melanin, esp. as a form of color variation in animals" in case the word is new to you.

I'm sure he's right that it's a melanic garden spider (araneus diadematus) thanks to the classic cross of white blobs on its back. It's also a great close up photo.

Time to come out of hibernation! Here is a random assortment of things:

  • Did you know that Harvestmen (Opiliones) cluster together in a dense mass? Neither did I, but there are some great videos out there. People tend to name them incorrectly as spiders mind you. Note that Americans call them Daddy Long Legs, but we use that name for Crane Flies mostly.
  • If you missed WinterWatch on the BCC over the last week, it's all available online, incluing "Live: Winterwatch at the Big Garden Birdwatch" throughout this weekend.
  • I wish someone would invent a bird feeder that's impervious to terrible weather. I find that mine get wet inside courtesy of the rain driving in sideways pretty much every day. Then the contents stick together and go mouldy, requiring a full clean out only a couple of days after filling them. Does anyone know of such a feeder?


These should keep the birds going for a while, along with the orange ones on the pyracantha. The blackbirds always seem to start at the top and gradually strip the plant towards the ground, presumably because it's safer higher up.

IchneumonWasp (1)

This strikingly beautiful wasp appeared as I worked in the garden, perhaps disturbed by my activity. I'm confident it is Pimpla rufipes, common in the autumn and fairly widespread. It doesn't have the enormously long ovipositor (pointy bit at the end of a female, for laying eggs) that some ichneumon wasps do. See my previous ichneumon post for a cracking example of that.


A classic example of the "fly agaric" (properly Amanita muscaria) looking lovely on a golf course. It's poisonous and psychoactive, so don't even think about eating it.

Paul sends in this shot of a mystery beastie, photographed in a small cave in the north east of England. He describes it as follows. "At first glance it looks like a cricket but lacks the hind legs etc. Its antennae bend backwards and it has two long appendages from the rear."

I can't figure out what it is, having searched the interwebs long and hard. Some sort of bristletail, or a larva of some sort? What's most annoying is that I swear I've seen such a thing before, but I can't bring it to mind. I bet there's someone out there who knows exactly what it is at a glance. Please tell us!


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.


Thanks to Steph in Worcester, who sends in some pictures of the two caterpillars she found on some leaves in her garden, which she identified as Pale tussock moth caterpillars. She says:

I kept them in jam jars with ventilation and fed them apple tree leaves. They have now both cocooned and I would like the share the pictures with you. 



A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a National Trust 'Uncovered' weekend at Sheringham Park in Norfolk. They have two more coming up at different locations, which sound like they're very worth attending if you're anywhere nearby.

In their own words:

  • At the Wimpole Estate near Cambridge – on 5-6 October – we'll be holding a weekend to help visitors discover how the farming of our land for food has over time shaped the landscape. Farming and nature are obviously very closely related, and walks/talks during the weekend will cover lots of wildlife-friendly traditional farming practices, like hedge-laying and organic soil management.
    See the full programme for events that weekend.
  • At Northey Island in Essex – on 12-13 October – visitors will have the opportunity to discover how the influence of man and the forces of nature are changing the coastline and seascape. Amongst other activities, there will be a 'saltmarsh safari' (where you can find out what’s so special about this rare habitat and the wildlife that depends on it) and lectures on how climate change is affecting the coast.
    See the full programme for events that weekend.


The Society of Biology is recruiting you (yes you) to help research the lives of UK spiders around the home. You can record sightings online, and there's even an app available for iPhone and Android to make it easy to send in reports and identify species.

This is the time of year when male house spiders typically come inside our homes, looking for love. But surprisingly little is known about them. That's where you can help!

The BBC also has a great article about the survey, including a quick rundown of common species. It alerted me to the Cardinal spider, the UK's largest house spider, which can have a leg span up to 14cm according to Wikipedia, brilliantly illustrated with one comfortably straddling a floppy disk. Remember floppy disks?