Learning to Love Spiders - guest blog by Sam Devine-Turner

On 27th May this year I prepared to attend the Learn to Love Spiders workshop run by Tom.Bio – for the second time! I enjoyed last year’s session so much that I just had return. I was a bit nervous, as I have quite a fear of spiders – a topic for another time – but having attended the first time I knew I would not be forced to be any closer to spiders than I was comfortable with.

House spider.  C BellThe day began with an introduction from Nigel Cane-Honeysett of Shropshire Spider Group and the British Arachnological Society, and was also led by Richard Burkmar and Charlie Bell of Tom.Bio at the Field Studies Council. We learnt about different groups of arachnids, how arachnids are different from other groups, how spiders are different from other arachnids and how spiders are different from each other. We learnt some absolutely fascinating things, such as that male Lycosids, or wolf spiders, have courting dances which are specific to a species, and that Pisaura mirabilis, or the nursery web spider, makes a web that encompasses the top of plants and her egg sac which she then protects, and that Anyphaena accentuate, or the buzzing spider, vibrates its abdomen against a leaf to attract a mate which produces a high pitched buzzing sound.

Spider hunting!  C BellThroughout the day, we had the opportunity to look closely at spiders that had already been collected and were sitting safely in specimen pots at the back of the classroom. We also ventured out onto the grounds of Preston Montford to see what other species we can find. It is truly incredible to know how many different species of spiders there are and how each has adapted its hunting methods. We learnt about the various types of web each spider makes and how they make them; for example Theridiids, or comb-footed spiders, have specially adapted combs on the back of their legs to ‘backcomb’ webs to better trap prey, whereas Salticids, or jumping spiders, produce no silk for catching prey and instead have eyes in the back of their heads to better hunt down active prey!

Using toothbrushes!  C BellWe even had the opportunity to put together a tarantula, in order to help us to learn about typical spider anatomy, which was absolutely fascinating. I learnt that a spider has parts called a sucking stomach and book lungs, and that it is easy for a human to chase one of those poor house spiders to death due to its anatomy. All this time I had spent being scared of them and all along they were actually such frail little creatures.

 I left the session feeling like I’d learnt even more the second time around, and eager to go and look for webs and the spiders that inhabited them. And I am most definitely looking forward to the many other spider courses being run by the Field Studies Council this year!