The females of Oak spider – Aculepeira ceropegia- Araña hoja de roble are large and conspicuous with an unmistakable design on the abdomen in the form of an oak leaf, from which comes the common name of the species. The basic colour is usually yellow to orange, patterned with highly contrasting black and white. The abdomen is pointed at both ends. The legs are darkly banded and the head covered by greyish-brown hairs.
The females measure up to 14 mm (0.51 inches), and the males, tiny in comparison, 8 mm (0.31 inches).
Located mainly in open areas of scrub, in meadows and woodland clearings, they build a web among small shrubs or grasses and stay motionless in the centre facing downwards, waiting for prey to get caught up.
The webs are more dense in the centre.
This species can be seen more often in spring and early summer though adults are visible from May to September. During the summer they mature and mating takes place. The eggs are produced in early autumn and wrapped in a silk ball for protection.
This photo below shows the size difference between the male and female but note that both have the oak leaf pattern on the abdomen.
The Oak spider – Aculepeira ceropegia – Araña hoja de roble is an orb weaving spider and so at a distance may be confused with some other orb weavers. On closer inspection, though, the oak leaf pattern on the abdomen is an unmistakeable guide to identification.
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Distribution: Almost worldwide in warm and temperate zones covering Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and US and South America.
Remember that the Tent-Web Spider – Cyrtophora citricola – Araña orbitela de las chumberas can change its color to blend in with the environment but normally, the abdomen (opisthosoma) is brown to black in colour with varied white markings and often three pairs of spots. There are three pairs of tubercles, the last being more pronounced and creating a bifurcation at the rear of the abdomen.
The spider almost always faces downwards on the web and can sometimes be difficult to distinguish as they often resemble a piece of a leaf.
Females are between 10-12 mm (½ inch), males are much smaller at about 3 mm (8th inch).
In Spain it was once very common to see their webs in prickly pears (Opuntia), where they often grouped together, ranging from a few individuals to colonial webs of several meters in length with many hundreds of spiders. However, in recent years and with the uncontrolled spread of the Cochineal – Dactylopius coccus – Cochinilla del Carmin the prickly pear habitat for this spider has all but been lost across the Iberian Peninsular.
Now, instead, it is quite common to see this spider on agaves, aloes and also along canals, water courses and bridges.
Each web is 30 to 50 cm in diameter (1foot-1ft 8 inches), suspended horizontally from numerous long silk threads that are attached to the surrounding plants. Once insects fly into this dense and irregular (non-sticky) network they fall to the circular mesh where the spider awaits. For the construction of the entire web, the spider requires at least four nights.
Adult specimens can be observed in summer and autumn.
During the summer they mature and mating occurs. After fertilization, the female can create up to 10 egg sacks, aligned vertically, which she monitors constantly. The eggs hatch during late summer to autumn and the spiderlings may stay with the growing colony.
Bridge spider – Larinioides sclopetarius – Araña orbitela jacobea común
At first glance appearing quite similar, the main difference between Cyrtophora citricola and Larinioides sclopetarius is behavioural. The latter is not a social spider and is mostly found seperated from others of its species. However, they do sometime build webs next to each other and in this case (unlike the former) the females exhibit territorial defense of their webs from intruders, including other members of the same species.
In Andalucia there is a fairly large, black burrowing spider belonging to the venomous funnel-web tarantula family. Its scientific name is Macrothele calpeiana and it belongs to the Hexathelidae group which is normally associated with Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Central Africa and South America.
There is one species known for the Mediterranean region. (Walckenaer, 1805). The genus name is derived from Ancient Greek makro meaning big and thele which refers to the spinnerets. The origin of the name calpeiana is from “Calpe” a name that the Phoenicians (mistakenly) gave to Gibraltar.
It is known in Spanish as “La araña negra de los alcornocales”, as within the Los Alcornocales Natural Park (Cadiz province) the largest populations are found. “Los Alcornocales” is a forest of evergreen oak trees, mainly Cork Oaks (Quercus suber) with a vast shady canopy creating an almost tropical feel. The temperatures and humidity levels in that area are more suited to these spiders’ requirements with a deep leaf litter for ease of burrowing.
The first sign of their location is a silken white, sheet-like web anchored firmly to twigs, rocks, plants etc. This narrows to a tube near the centre, the entrance to the tunnel, which often leads to cooler depths underground.
There may be a labyrinth of several entrances to the one tunnel and the range of sites for these webs can be a simple scrape under a rock, vegetated banks, under logs, crevices in dry-stone walls, tree trunk bases and even tree hollows up to 2metres above ground level. The underground portion can be to a depth of 80cm, the upper part of which has a non-sticky web lining and the rest is left bare. The day-time temperature at the burrow end can be 3 to 5 degrees centigrade cooler than at the entrance.
The Andalucian funnel-web spider is considered to be the largest in Europe and is easily recognized. They are jet black with a glossy carapace and fine hairs on their legs and abdomen. The 1.5cm long spinnerets, at the rear, almost look like extra legs. The body can be up to 3.5cm long and the stretched legs reaching a span of 8cm.When under threat it can raise up its front legs into an attack position, exposing its fangs.
They are found mostly in Cádiz and Málaga provinces with smaller numbers in scattered enclaves discovered in Huelva, Sevilla, Granada, Jaén, Gibraltar and the furthest north Badajoz, Extremadura.
Two smaller communities found in North Africa are thought to be accidental imports from Spain. Further reports of their existence on the French side of the Pyrenees have been put down to their being carried with Olive trees and such, but they are unlikely to survive cold winter temperatures.
These spiders are most active at night when they will wait at the tunnel entrance for prey to become glued onto the silken web. Their diet consists of small insects such as beetles, woodlouse, millipedes and crickets. When they feel the vibration of a trapped insect they will carefully approach, then bite the ill-fated prey with venom which will begin to liquefy it as they wrap it in silk. The venom is injected into their prey through openings in the tips of the pair of fangs. The glands that produce this venom are located in the two segments of the chelicerae. (The parts to which the fangs are attached).
“Dinner” is then taken into the private and protected retreat area behind the web to be devoured. After eating they are fastidious cleaners. Any food debris will be discarded away from the web and around an hour of thorough grooming will follow. Mites are often seen on the carapace of these spiders and this cleaning will minimize their numbers.
Around April-May males will wander around at night in search of one or more female with which to breed. It is thought that there are pheromones in the silk of a female’s web that attract a mate. A gentle courtship ensues, as the male does not want to become the next meal. The female will eat more over the ensuing weeks, then in early July seal herself into the retreat in order to produce the egg sac.
The females care for the egg sac by carrying it with them, maneuvering to different parts of the tunnel to maintain the right levels of temperature and humidity. The young have their first moult within the sac and she then helps to release them using her fangs. Possibly 100 to 250 eggs will hatch into spiderlings. They will accompany the female to the outer web after dark and are thought to feed on smaller prey. At some point cannibalism amongst the young may occur triggering dispersal of the survivors. At this point many of the young will fall prey to other animals.
As they prefer little disturbed areas and are active at night you will not normally encounter these spiders. Be cautious if you are moving logs, rocks etc and see a sheet like web. If provoked these spiders will rear up in a threatening manner and can even give an audible hiss. unlike its famous close relative is the Australian funnel-web (Atrax robustus) whose bites can be fatal, Macrothele calpeianavenom is mild in comparison giving a localized but painful swelling.
There are three Argiope spiders in Spain. The above image is of the lobed argiope and you can clearly see the much smaller male above and to the left of her.
The Wasp Spider
Scientific: Argiope bruennichi
English: Wasp Spider
Spanish: Araña tigre
French: Argiope frelon
Italian: Ragno vespa
Distribution: Southern, central and northern Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia.
This spider is easily recognised due the female’s large size and striking horizontal yellow, white and black stripes. Their legs are brown or blackish with darker rings. Often seen waiting in the centre of the web facing downwards with legs held in pairs. The male is much smaller, generally brown in colour with 2 variable darker brown stripes.
Living for one season, and most easily seen during summer and autumn when they reach adult size.The females measure 15-20 mm (½-¾ inch), the males measure a tiny 5 – 6 mm. (0.20”)
They create a large spiral web often with a central zigzag of thickened silk, this decoration is called stabilimenta. The web is built in open areas between shrubs or grasses and is made at dusk or dawn, usually a little above ground level and takes about an hour.
When the prey first touches the web, the spider quickly wraps it completely in silk thread. The prey is later bitten, injecting a paralysing venom and a protein dissolving enzyme that aids digestion. Food supply is generally grasshoppers and flying insects.
Often you can see a much smaller male near the female web waiting for her to complete her final moult, which is when she reaches sexual maturity. At that time her chelicerae remain soft for a short period allowing the male to mate without danger of being devoured. After mating, the female begins to increase in size. She places several hundred eggs into silk containers in late autumn. The next generation overwinter as eggs or tiny spiders inside the ootheca.
The Lobed Argiope
Scientific: Argiope lobata
English: Lobed Argiope
Spanish: Argiope lobulado
French: Argiope lobée
Distribution: Africa and stretching to southern Europe and into Asia.
Easily recognised by its wavy edged body, which is cream to silvery white in colour with black lateral lines marking the edge of each lobe. The long legs have light and dark rings. They pose facing downwards in the centre of the web.
Living for one season, and most easily seen during summer and autumn when they reach adult size. The adult female reaches 25 mm (1 inch) and the male a much smaller 6 mm (¼ inch).
They live in dry, low scrub and the web is large, up to 1m in diameter (3ft3 inches), resistant, built almost vertically and discreetly placed between bushes. It is often decorated by bands of thicker silk in a zigzag pattern at the centre, a structure that is called stabilimenta.
Often you can see a male near the female web waiting for her to complete her final moult, which is when she reaches sexual maturity. At that time her chelicerae remain soft for a short period allowing the male to mate without danger of being devoured. After mating, the female begins to increase in size. She places several hundred eggs into silk containers in late autumn. The next generation overwinter as eggs or tiny spiders inside the ootheca.
The Banded Argiope – Argiope trifasciata
Argiope trifasciata (the banded garden spider or banded orb weaving spider is a species of spider native to North and South America, but now found in many places around the world.