Monday 1 December 2014

Spidery bits and pieces

On Saturday morning while reading in bed, a tiny woodland spider wandered over the pages of my book. The only problem with recording indoor invertebrates (particularly those normally found in trees) is that I can't reliably state their origin further than my coat, which hangs up nearby.

One of my favourite species; the unmistakable cone-butt profile of Cyclosa conica. 

Taking it as a good omen, I potted up this little Cyclosa and brought her along for the ride to the spider identification workshop at Dinton Pastures, Reading. 

Hosted by the British Entomological and Natural History Society, today's course was led by Dr Peter Smithers, an expert arachnologist from Plymouth University. Peter is a brilliantly affable guy and his fascination and enthusiasm for spids is entirely infectious. We were started off with a captivating run down of Britain's main spider families, in all their glorious forms and lifestyles...

Jumping spiders (family Salticidae)

We were shown various identifiable features of spiders, including eye arrangement, leg structures, general body shapes and their most privatest parts. We were then let loose on a collection of specimens, making use of microscopes, books and worksheets provided.

Specimens arranged by family groups and their features

Collections Room at Dinton Pastures with microscopes and lamps 

Organised chaos

The key is to first identify the family your specimen belongs to (i.e. wolf spider, jumping spider, comb-footed spider) and to then locate the reproductive parts. In the males, these are a pair of modified limbs located at the very front called the pedipalps...

Photo taken down the lens of a light microscope (300x)

By looking closely at the finer structures of the palps and comparing with images in the book, I identified the above individual as a common species of Wolf Spider called Pardosa palustris... or possibly Pardosa agrestis. Or P. monticola
   I'll be needing a little more practice at this.

Due to their fidgety nature, spiders are mostly dispatched in alcohol before being examined under a lens. However, the two I had brought along with me were a couple of obliging little posers, including this adult female Comb-footed spider...

Some kinda species of Theridion...

The identifiable feature of females is the epigyne, a small opening which is uniquely shaped and patterned to each species. With Peter's help I identified this lady as Theridion sisyphium, who until recently had been living in the JSA portacabin loo.

Close-up view of the female parts on the underside of the abdomen

Peter also showed us some affordable tech to aid us in our future spidery investigations. I've checked and you can pick up a USB microscope like this for between £15-£40 online, which means I might be getting myself an Xmas present after all!

Cyclosa under the lens: she mostly behaved and only once was found wandering across the desk

Theridion under the lens

A live feed means you can also record great footage of spider behaviour

I've only been to a small number of workshops run by the BEHNS, which have all been awesome. This was my favourite so far and if they run it again next year, I'll be back for more!

Cyclosa, back in the trees somewhere in Hove Park

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