Sunday 17 December 2017

Woodlouse spider breaks all the rules

The widespread and fairly common Woodlouse Spider is found wherever woodlice abound.
The widespread and fairly common Woodlouse Spider is found wherever woodlice abound.

False Widows aside, attention focuses on spiders at Halloween. .

Since many people are afraid of them, fear of the spider is exploited with models of large, long-legged, hairy black individuals with ever-looking, glowing red or green eyes dangling from the ceiling on silken threads together with sheets of cobweb draping windows and doorways

Take the Woodlouse Spider for example; it appears to break all the common Halloween perceptions. It doesn't spin webs or dangle on silken threads. It isn't particularly big. It isn't long legged. It isn't hairy; in fact it is exceptionally bald. It isn't black; far from it, as it has a striking pinkish, creamy-grey and red body colour and orangey-red legs that readily distinguishes it from other species.

Climate change is one of the results of global warming and it is widely predicted that climate change here in Ireland will see more southern creatures moving northwards. Colonisation has, of course, happened in the past and is still happening but the rate at which aliens arrive is likely is increase.

The Woodlouse Spider is an example of a long-established alien as it arrived here sometime towards the end of the nineteenth century. Its native range is in southern Europe and it gets its name from the fact that it feeds exclusively on woodlice. It hunts on foot, or to be precise, on eight feet, rather than spinning silken snares or traps.

Woodlice are armoured with tough outer plates protecting their soft bodies so the Woodlouse Spider is equipped with a vicious pair of long, dagger-like sharp fangs that enable it to pierce the woodlouse's back. The fangs are the longest of any Irish spider and like those of the False Widow are capable of giving a person a painful, stinging bite. However, these bites are normally no worse than a wasp sting.

Woodlice are nocturnal creatures so the Woodlouse Spider is nocturnal too. While most spiders have eight eyes and move pretty fast the Woodlouse Spider has only six eyes, is rather short-legged and tends to walk rather than to run. It is believed that these peculiarities of its species may have something to do with the slow-moving prey it hunts.

The widespread and fairly common Woodlouse Spider is found wherever woodlice abound. Damp places, rotting wood, under debris in gardens and around compost heaps are all favourite haunts. It will come into houses if it gets the chance but will not stray far from external doorways.

Gorey Guardian

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