By John Partridge
I have not written a general report since April 1999, so this covers nearly three 'seasons'.
Almost inevitably, the majority of the new finds have been Linyphiids, the small black 'money-spiders' that all tend to look very similar until they are under the microscope, although the most exciting of these is in fact red. If it were bigger, it would be very noticeable because of the unusual shape of the male's head!
Trematocephalus cristatus was first found in Britain in the 1950's. This Notable A species was considered confined to a small area in Surrey, Sussex and W. Kent between the North and South Downs, but there are now recent isolated records from S. Essex, Somerset, Staffordshire and also Worcestershire ..
The first record in the area was from Kinver, but I am not sure which county. I found a probable immature male in Ockeridge Wood in 1999, but this year produced records from Wyre, Pensax Common and Shrawley Wood, suggesting that it is now quite well established in this area, and likely to lose its Notable A status.
I was lucky to collect three specimens of Aranea sturmi during this year, a species which I have been trying to find for over three years. Although the picture in Roberts (where it is listed as Atea sturmi) makes it look attractive and very distinctive with its red/brown 'shoulders', it is small and the features are not at all evident even when it is in the net. This is an orb-web spider in the same family as the Garden or Diadem spider, Araneus diadematus. It is apparently usually found on evergreen trees and bushes, but its early maturity in spring probably makes it less likey to be collected than other orb-web species.
Also from this family is the more spectacular Araneus alsine, which is a bright orange red, and a decent size - the female is up to 9 mm long without the legs. However, it hides very effectively in a retreat, above its web, which includes dead curled leaves. I saw this at its only (known) site in Scotland last year, and have looked for it, unsuccessfully in Wyre Forest from where it is also known. My emotions were mixed when John Meiklejohn turned up with a specimen from his sweep net, but it was from the Shropshire side of the brook, so perhaps it doesn't matter too much!.
Nesticus cellulanus is a medium-sized spider which I first found under damp overhanging vegetation in Shrawley Wood, and then soon afterwards under a manhole cover in my garden. Gary Farmer has been doing some DIY recently and found it in the same situation in his garden, so please, if you find yourself lifting manhole covers for any reason, keep your eyes open - it has a body length of 3 - 6 mm, and this is glossy and usually a khaki-green with black markings. The head is rather paler, with a broad dark streak down the centre and darker edges. The front legs are about three times the body length, with dark rings on them.
The last spider I shall report on was found during the Devil's Spittleful Recording Day, by me this time. This was Arctosa perita. This species is widespread around the coast, but more records are beginning to show up in inland heath areas, so this one is following the trend.
The best story of the year, or should have been: A small pale green Dictynid, of a type that I had not seen before, was collected by Harry Green, who inadvertently put it in a tube with the Tephritid (Picture wing) fly that he really wanted - unfortunately, when he went to get the fly, the only thing he could find was the spider and some debris! But there was a happy ending (for me at least) when I identified it as a new county species Nigma walckenaeri, another Notable A, usually confined to the south-east, with many records from Buckingham Palace gardens (although again with a few records from the Severn estuary area). It is suspected that this traveled on a cutting from the garden secreted by Jenny, Harry's wife, when he collected his MBE! Unfortunately, the specimen was a bit small and immature, so I could not get the identification confirmed, and Harry and Jenny did not get into the gardens at the palace. Never mind, why let the truth get in the way of a good story, except that this is supposed to be a scientific journal.
You will have noted no doubt that some of the best finds are being made by other 'none-spider' people, probably because they are looking in different places. This seems to be a fairly common occurrence for many recorders, so, please, if you find unusual spiders I am willing to try to identify them, and I shan't be worried if they turn out to be common - most spiders that I collect are common but they all add to our understanding of their distribution and their habitat preferences. They can be kept for some time in a container with a leaf to provide some humidity - food does not matter - they can live for weeks without - and their oxygen consumption is very small. Alternatively, if you normally preserve your collection in 70% alcohol, you can do the same with the spider. It is suggested that gin can be used in an emergency, but most of us do not have gin with this sort of alcohol content.
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