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The Spiders from Mars

Authors Graeme Lyons and Andy Phillips

Thomisus onustus / Andy Phillips Thomisus onustus / Andy Phillips

Throughout the summer of 2012, Andy Phillips (Sussex county recorder for spiders) and I carried out an invertebrate survey at Stedham and Iping Commons. Initially, the survey was going to be focused entirely upon spiders as this key group of invertebrates are mentioned on the sites SSSI notification and had not been looked at in detail for many years but we covered most of the key orders too. Now spiders are an interesting group for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they are ALL predators of other invertebrates which means a site rich in spiders is likely to be rich in other invertebrates too. Secondly, spiders require structure and a great variety of structure is provided by ericaceous shrubs on heathland, particularly if these heathers show a great variety of age. Add in bare ground, scattered scrub and woodland edge, not to mention being located in one of the warmest parts of the country, and its all stacking up that your heathland would be good for spiders.

We started the survey with a site list of 160 species, mostly carried out by Peter Merrett in the late 1960s and Andy Phillips in 2007 and 2009. Remarkably, we added 44 species to the list in 2012 (an increase of 28%!). Whats even more impressive is that a site list of 204 species is equivalent to around 30% of the ALL the spiders that are found in Britain, all on one 126 ha site! Surely, of all Sussex Wildlife Trusts nature reserves, Stedham and Iping must be the richest in spiders.

The four new species recorded were all found at Stedham. A wolf spider called Hygrolycosa rubrofasciata (Na) that is associated with wetlands was a real surprise. We also recorded Zelotes petrensis (Nb), a crab spider Philodromus praedatus (Nb) and a money spider Satilatlas britteni (Nb). Other exciting records included the Aellurilus v-insignatus (Nb), Araniella displicata (Na), Araneus angulatus (Nb), Salticus zebranaeus (Nb) and Ero tuberculata (Nb). Stedham clearly came out as the richer of the two commons and this is in part due to the excellent work in varying structure the cattle have been doing out there over the last decade.

2012 was the year that I got hooked on spiders, and thanks to Andys help and enthusiasm I am still hooked. The array of unusual shaped and coloured spiders that we recorded was staggering, the spiders of Stedham and Iping are so rich and varied compared to the species we tend to see in our homes. How could anybody be frightened of these? They are just possibly some of the most aesthetically pleasing invertebrates we have. Here are just a few of the species we recorded at Stedham and Iping, our invertebrate faunas answer to glam rock!


Spider Gallery

(click images to view at larger size).

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Andy Phillips is running a Spider Identification Workshop for the Trust at Hastings Country Park on the 18th May 2013.

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