You were the first one I ever saw, because instead of the usual plants or bushes, your home was in the bathroom of a first floor council flat.
For some reason your sugar-dusted-cinnamon body didn’t scare 7 year-old me or my older sister, who, when you sadly died, wrote you a letter of goodbye. Being a heartless and aspiring Grammar Nazi, I just pointed and laughed at where she’d written “happy in happy in Heaven” too many times.
There was no bundle of spiderlings roaming our bathroom the following spring, so given what female garden spiders usually get up to, you probably were quite angelic, in keeping with the white cross on your abdomen.
(Readers who are bug-liking badasses can see an actual photo of one here.)
I’ve since read you were one of the largest and most venomous spiders in the UK, and a bite from your tiny fangs could have caused nausea and light swelling. (Stop laughing, you there in Australia.) You weren’t at all aggressive though, so if I’d been a bit braver, I could have held you in my palm. The same couldn’t be said for your relatives though!
Some “orb weavers” are big enough to eat bats, and your family apparently dates back to the Early Cretaceous, when dinosaurs were still sprinting or lolloping about. I thought all that was impressive, until I read about your actual orb weaving.
The silk is as strong as Kevlar, and if it could somehow circle the globe, it probably wouldn’t outweigh a bag of sugar. I wouldn’t have guessed that from the wonky-looking bicycle wheel you called a web. You would sit quite brazenly in the middle of it, but then who wouldn’t, if they made an elaborate masterpiece of art, engineering and food collection almost every single night? Well, maybe not every night in your case, because there were probably far fewer butterflies, wasps and flies crashing into it in our bathroom. Let alone unfortunate suitors.
I don’t think you ever had the chance to loom over a tiny male half your size and enjoy a disastrous (for him) dinner date. That would have apparently made you bigger, even before you whipped up an egg sac to defend to the death. I suppose it would have been much of a muchness for you anyway, because a bright yellow cluster of spiderlings would have emerged about 8 months after you left for Spidey Heaven. You wouldn’t have been around to see them scatter apart and reassemble after danger, or their adult forms 2 years later when they also splay bright crosses on their bodies.
Perhaps it was that very pattern that broke up your harrowing silhouette, but either way: here’s to you Sally, for being the first – and absolute last – spider I wasn’t afraid of.
Latin: Araneus diadematus
What? Small pale to dark brown spider with white “cross” marking on its abdomen
Where? Gardens or on vegetation in most areas of the UK (except northern Scotland), and central and western Europe, from May to November
How big? Females 10-18 mm / 0.4-0.7 inches, males 4-8 mm / 0.15-0.3 inches
Endangered? No, it’s actually the most common orb weaver spider in the UK.
Probable motto: Lucky for you I have to re-do my web anyway!
They look…interesting. Do they need my help at all?
Nope, they’re pretty abundant, in fact chances are you’ve walked through one of their webs at some point. I bet you feel tickly all over now, don’t you?
Just to prove I’m not fibbing:
“Britain’s most poisonous spider revealed“. 2016. BT.com.
Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. No date. “Orb weaver“. Britannica.com.
Elgar, Mark A., and Nash, David R. 1988. “Sexual cannibalism in the garden spider Araneus diadematus“. Animal Behaviour 36(5):1511-1517.
“Garden cross spider“. No date. Buglife.
“Garden spider“. No date. RSPB.org.
“Garden spider“. No date. The Wildlife Trusts.