Finding love on the web
There are over 600 species of spider in the UK. Most are native, but some have been introduced accidentally through trade and many are increasing their range across the country.
Even though only a handful of species in the UK are actually capable of biting humans, the mere sight of a spider instils fear and loathing in many people.
But like most other animals, spiders are only in your house or garden to do what comes naturally - eat, sleep and look for the perfect partner.
Getting all dressed up
Male and female spiders live a solitary lifestyle as they grow, undergoing a series of skin moults - the periodic shedding of their exoskeleton. When they’re ready to mate, both sexes go through a final moult.
By the time the males have completed their final moult they have generally lost body mass but have longer legs than before. Longer limbs are useful for this stage of their lives as they have to cover a lot of ground looking for a mate.
Males will also develop enlarged pedipalps, which are small appendages in front of their legs used for mating and transferring sperm. Females will have a fully developed epigyne - a structure on the underside of their abdomen for receiving the male's pedipalps and sperm.
The shape of pedipalps varies between species, and males must have the right equipment for the job. ‘It’s a lock and key,’ says Museum spider expert Stuart Hine. ‘To open the epigyne they have to have all the right bits.'
Out on the town
But before he gets that far, the male spider has to find a willing mate. Web-building species leave their webs and wander about looking for mature females. They approach the web of a female in response to pheromones, or chemical signals, that she emits. He may pluck her web suggestively, so she knows he’s a potential mate rather than a potential meal.
Spiders that don’t build webs have other ways of attracting females, from sophisticated dances to nuptial gifts. To find out more about what spiders get up to during mating season, and what they’re looking for in a partner, we’ve compiled dating profiles for some common species in the UK.
Spitting spider (Scytodes)
Body type: Small and pale brown with attractive chocolate spots. My dome-shaped head holds my huge venom glands. I don’t feel the need to rush around like some guys, I just stealthily stalk about houses.
Would like to meet: A night-loving girl for nocturnal hunting trips. She must love the indoors - it’s too cold outside for me.
Favourite meal: Anything spit-caught. I fire venom and silk from my fangs and rapidly turn my head from side to side, delivering a splatter of sticky spit to pin down my prey before biting it into submission. I may be slow walking around, but I can immobilise my victims in under 1/700th of a second.
House spider (Tegenaria)
Body type: Tall with long legs, but still strong and bulky. I’m the guy that loves to taunt humans by running around their homes to see how many shrieks I can cause. But sometimes bathtubs get the better of me, and I get stuck.
Practical skills: My web may be simple - just a sheet of dusty threads near the ground - but I’m not one for entrapment. Brute force is my game - I use my big body and long fangs to ambush any prey that wanders into my web. I’m a hard guy, but my big secret is that I’m afraid of daddy long-legs spiders.
Zebra jumping spider (Salticus scenicus)
Body type: I may be small, but I have huge eyes for spotting prey (and the ladies). If you like patterns more than flashy colours, my black and white stripes will tickle your fancy.
Perfect date: I would follow your trail of dropped silk and perform a spectacular dance for you. No one can move their abdomen like me, and I wave my front legs with perfect rhythm. I can even entrance humans, who sometimes call me the theatrical jumper.
Favourite meal: I like to put on a show whatever I do. When leaping off obstacles to catch prey, I’ll attach a silk thread before I jump to slow me down as I near the ground. I’m an expert at sneaking up on unsuspecting prey and pouncing with deadly accuracy.
Lace webbed spider (Amaurobius)
Body type: Large, dark and imposing, with strong legs. Unlike other guys, I sometimes carry sperm externally on my pedipalps.
Would like to meet: A girl who will let me move in with her before I’m ready to mate - we have to get to know each other first. To earn your trust I will rub my back legs together to send you some good vibrations. But when our babies hatch, you must be prepared for them to eat you.
Daddy long-legs spider (Pholcus)
Body type: Tall, dark and handsome. And skinny, with almost translucent skin.
Perfect date: There may not be much to me, but you would be surprised by what I can catch. For you I’d trap a house spider in my web, even though it’s much bigger than me. I don’t have to inject much venom - I’ll just wrap it in silk and slowly dissolve it by injecting enzymes into its leg joints so we can enjoy a leisurely meal.
Would like to meet: A nice girl next door - someone who will carry her small batch of eggs between her fangs, and look after our babies before they disperse to find their own corner of the house or shed.
Nursery web spider (Pisaura mira)
Body type: Flat and long. I may look like those scary wolf spiders, but I’m actually a sensitive guy.
Perfect date: I’ll bring you a nuptial gift of your favourite prey, and may even perform a dance for you. But while you’re enjoying your meal, I may just get down to business.
Would like to meet: A girl who will build a web nest especially for our young, despite being a free-roaming independent woman. She can’t be too sentimental though - our kids may eat each other after hatching.