The NHBS Guide to UK Spider Identification

There are over 650 species of spider within the UK, and although many may find spiders unappealing or even frightening, they are fascinating in their own right. While many spiders are present throughout the year, autumn is the best time to see them outdoors. 

Identifying spiders can often be difficult, as they are very small, elusive, and many species resemble one another. The colouration and pattern of a spider can be a useful way to identify them, as well as other key features such as the structure of their webs. In some cases, it is necessary to take a closer look at the genitalia under a microscope, as this can be the only way to confidently identify certain species. You can also use your location as a clue, as some species are more likely to be found in certain parts of the UK.

To survey for spiders, you can search by eye or you can use equipment such as a sweep net or a sampling tray, and a hand lens can help you pick out features on smaller species. There are also lots of field guides and books available for more information on different types of spiders.

In this article, we’ll show you several fairly common species that you may find in your garden or local green space. 

Garden Spider or Cross Orbweaver (Araneus diadematus)

Distribution: Common and widespread

What to look for: These spiders are greyish-brown or reddish-brown with a white pattern across their back that resembles a cross. They can also sometimes be bright orange. They have striped legs, and females are twice the size of males. 

Garden spider (left and right) by xulescu_g via Flickr
Noble False Widow (Steatoda nobilis)

Distribution: Widespread across southern England, with their range increasing northwards

What to look for: This species can be confused with many other UK species. Their body is dark brown, with variable patterns on their abdomen. Usually cream and dark brown marks that can sometimes resemble a skull.

Did you know? This is a non-native species in the UK and was thought to be introduced in the late 1800s. Despite many rumours, bites from this species are rare, usually occurring when the spider is disturbed. The bites have been compared to a wasp sting, however guidance should be sort if you are concerned about a bite.

Noble false widow by Martin Cooper via Flickr
Common Candy-Striped Spider (Enoplognatha ovata)

Distribution: Occurs throughout the UK

What to look for: The common candy-striped spider has several colour variations. Their abdomen usually has a pale creamish-white background. The pattern on it can be bright pinkish-purple in a V shape pointing towards the head, a solid pinkish-purple triangle, black lines that can be either thick or thin, or a variation of black marks and spots. Their cephalothorax (fused head and thorax) is a pale yellow colour, with a dark line down the middle, and their legs are also a similar pale yellow. In the field, it is incredibly difficult to distinguish this species from a similar species, the scarce candy-striped spider (Enoplognatha latimana). Confirmation of the species usually requires examination under a microscope. 

Common candy-striped spider by Judy Gallagher via Flickr
Goldenrod (Flower) Crab Spider (Misumena vatia)

Distribution: Common in southern UK

What to look for: The goldenrod crab spider has some colour variation, appearing white, yellow or green, They often have red lines on either side of their abdomen. Their abdomen is bulbous and their front legs have a crab-like appearance, hence their name. The female is much larger than the male. 

Did you know? This species can change its body colour to match its background! It takes a few days to occur, but it helps to disguise the spider as they sit and wait for their prey to land near them.  

Goldenrod crab spider by hedera.baltica via Flickr
Zebra Jumping Spider (Salticus scenicus)

Distribution: Widespread

What to look for: The zebra jumping spider can grow up to 8mm, which is surprisingly large for a jumping spider, and they can jump an impressive 10cm. As their name suggests, they have a black and white striped pattern, but it can be hard to tell them apart from similar species of jumping spider. They are usually found on walls, rocks, or tree trunks.

Zebra jumping spider by Chris via Flickr
Cucumber Green Spider (Araniella cucurbitina)

Distribution: Occur throughout the UK

What to look for: Around 4-6mm long, this small spider has a bright yellowish-green abdomen and a pinkish cephalothorax. They also have small black spots along their abdomen. They are very similar to another cucumber spider A. opisthographa, but it can be difficult to tell them apart in the field.

Cucumber green spider by Pavel Kirillov via Flickr
Labyrinth Spider (Agelena labyrinthica)

Distribution: Widespread in southern England, as well as in Wales

What to look for: The labyrinth spider can grow quite large, up to 18mm long. They create long, funnel-shaped webs in long grass and hedgerows. Their abdomen has a pale brown stripe with darker bands on either side, and these bands have several paler chevron markings through them. Their cephalothorax also has a pale brown stripe, with an orange-brown band on either side, and their legs are orange-brown with paler hairs.

Labyrinth spider by gailhampshire via Flickr
Nursery Web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis)

Distribution: Widespread across most of the UK, although less frequent in the north

What to look for: The nursery web spider is quite variable in colour, and can have a grey, dark brown, or yellow-orange body. They have a slender, pointed abdomen, with two dark brown lines running from the spinnerets (silk-spinning organs) all the way to the front of the cephalothorax. They also have pale tear-shaped marks next to their eyes.

Nursery web spider by Dluogs via Flickr

Useful books and equipment

Britain’s Spiders: A Field Guide
Flexibound | £24.99 

Now in a comprehensively revised and updated new edition, Britain’s Spiders is a guide to all 38 British families, focussing on spiders that can be identified in the field. Illustrated with photographs, it is designed to be accessible to a wide audience, including those new to spider identification.

 

Collins Field Guide to the Spiders of Britain and Northern Europe
Hardback | £29.99 

This major identification guide to 450 species of spider is designed for easy use. Each species is described in detail and illustrated in colour, including common colour variants and differences between the sexes. General family features are also described, with information on behaviour and web-making, including a key to spiders’ webs.

A Guide to House and Garden Spiders
Unbound | £3.75 

Of the 33 spider families represented in Britain, 21 are featured in this chart. The guide includes colour illustrations and a table with identification features, habitat and methods of prey capture for the 40 spiders featured in the chart.

 

Keys to the Families of British Spiders
Paperback | £8.50 

This well-illustrated guide includes all of the 34 families known to occur in Britain. Two identification keys are presented. The first uses morphological characters that are visible under low-power magnification; the second key, a tabular guide, includes a range of behavioural and ecological characters. Sections on spider morphology, biology, ecology and a glossary are also provided.

Bug Box Magnifying Pot
£5.50

A clear plastic pot with a snap on magnifying lid with x3.5 magnification, ideal for viewing pond life and terrestrial invertebrates up close.

 

Invicta Pooter
£3.95

This is a new design of pooter for the collection of insects and other small organisms, allowing naturalists to store them temporarily for observation. The viewing chamber has been specially designed not to be perfectly round so that bugs will hid in the crevices for easier inspection.

 

Bug Tongs
£3.95

These scissor action Bug Tongs are the perfect way for children to collect larger insects and bugs which cannot easily be caught using a pooter.

 

 

Opticron Hand Lens 23mm 10x Magnification
£12.95 £14.95

This Opticron Hand Lens contains a high quality 23mm doublet lens, made of glass and provides excellent distortion-free magnification. The 10x magnification is recommended for general observations and this magnifier is the one most commonly recommended for all types of fieldwork.

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

Author Interview: The Handbook of Acoustic Bat Detection

Acoustic detection is a popular and widespread method of environmental assessment, and its use is increasing, driven by the development of increasingly accessible and sophisticated detection devices. The Handbook of Acoustic Bat Detection provides an in-depth understanding of the principles of acoustic detection, study planning, data handling, properties of bat calls, analysis of results, and the manual identification of species. It also includes information on quality assurance, the benefits and drawbacks of automatic species recognition, and the background physics of sound.

We are fortunate to have had the opportunity to ask the authors some questions.


The applications of data derived from acoustic bat detection are diverse and wide-ranging. What motivated you to write The Handbook of Acoustic Bat Detection and what impact do you hope the book has in this field?

In our daily work, we have seen a lot of improper use of acoustic data. Mainly driven by misconceptions regarding the interpretation of acoustic data and quite often due to missing basic knowledge on bioacoustics and signal analysis. With the easy availability of acoustic detectors and the relative simple usage, these problems became more common, especially in consulting activities. Many new “bat experts” appeared in the field basing their work on automatic detection and identification systems. We hope to help such users to gain a basic understanding of bioacoustics and give more experienced users new information to further improve their work. Thus overall we hope to improve the quality of projects based on acoustic data and increase the evidence level.

This book discusses some of the different methods for processing acoustic data, such as zero-crossing. What are the benefits of this method versus full-spectrum analysis?

The main benefit of zero-crossing is the much smaller amount of data produced and the possibility of listening to the recorded sounds directly. Full-spectrum detectors produce much larger amounts of data and do not allow direct listening to the bat calls. Yet, the benefits of zero-crossing are decreasing with cheaper data storage and higher processing power. Thus today one can nearly instantaneously listen to full-spectrum sound resampled to zero-crossing or heterodyne representation in real-time. In our opinion, the real-time data gives more insights into the calls on a much easier-to-understand level, yet we accept that experts can do powerful analysis with zero-crossing data as well.

You have all had many years of experience in this field; how has bat detection and acoustic analysis developed and changed since you first started?

We started working on bat acoustics in the field when only heterodyne or zero-crossing detectors were available. So in our early days, we walked through the field listening for bats. We were already interested in better and more reliable species ID back then. Then the time-expansion system was available as well as the Anabat system. We used time-expansion a lot, but both didn’t work well for our scientific research interests. So we developed with the batcorder a real-time detector that completely changed bat work in Germany within a few years. Back in the beginning, sound analysis of bat calls was something only a few were able to do. Now with fully automated systems, the whole process changed. Surveys can run for multiple months nearly everywhere – not only ground-based but also on wind turbines or off-shore. We collect billions of bat calls a year with these systems and thus are able to learn more about their calls and ecology. Yet this is not always the best, since a lack of bat knowledge often prevents optimal solutions for bat-related landscape changes.

Bat acoustic recording visualised through the Anabat Insight Software 

In chapter 11, ‘Quality assurance of reports’, you provide criteria to improve the quality of specialist reports used in impact assessments, such as which information should be included and the procedures that should be followed. How do you think the previous lack of clear guidelines has impacted bat surveying and, consequently, conservation?

In Germany, quite often surveys were conducted and it was later not possible to understand the low or high results since important information was missing. Also for legal complaints in planning processes, it was quite often impossible to understand how the data was actually sampled. If surveys and methods are well documented, it is much easier to evaluate the planning process and even more to work out optimal sampling schemes for following surveys in the new planning processes.

Now that this book is complete, do you have any future projects you would like to tell us about?

There are many projects – especially since we now face a major green-green dilemma with climate conservation often acting against biodiversity conservation. This especially is visible in the renewable energy sector. So currently some of us are investigating chances to further identify the possibilities of improving bat conservation for planning wind parks and other sources of renewables.

Another project is the ongoing improvement of species identification based on bat calls. We are working on new solutions to give better results.


The Handbook of Acoustic Bat Detection

Available for pre-order: Due September 2021

Paperback | £39.99

 

 

 

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

July Top 10

NHBS’s Top 10 bestsellers July 2021

We love looking back at our bestsellers from the month before and are very excited to share our second Top 10 list, featuring the best of July.

This month, highlights include recent works such as Sphagnum Mosses and Seabirds, as well as some you may recognise from last month’s Top 10, Secrets of a Devon Wood and Insectinside, as recently featured on BBC’s SpringWatch.

 

seabirds: The New Identification Guide | Peter Harrison, et al.
Hardback | June 2021

In top place this month is Seabirds: The New Identification Guide, a 600-page treatment to all know seabird species. It’s the first comprehensive guide to the world’s seabirds to be published since Harrison’s Seabirds in 1983. This guide contains 239 brilliant, full-colour plates, along with detailed text covering status, conservation, geographic range and more.

Seabirds Publisher, Lynx Edicions, is also our publisher of the month for August!

 

a field guide to grasses, sedges, and rushes | Dominic price
Spiralbound | April 2016

Field Guide to the Grasses, Sedges and Rushes has moved up the list this month from the 7th spot and is a consistent bestseller for NHBS. This guide aims to simplify the identification of this fascinating group of plants, using characters that are both easy to spot in the field and simple to remember. Over 100 species are described, focusing on key features of both their genus and species.

Read our interview with Dominic Price here.

 

Sphagnum Mosses: FIeld Key to the Mosses of Britain and Ireland | Martin Godfrey and Karen Rogers
Paperback | July 2021

Brand new last month, Sphagnum Mosses: Field Key to the Mosses of Britain and Ireland is proving to be popular. This short handbook is intended to provide an accessible key for identifying Sphagnum species in the field.

It contains brief descriptions of the more important identification features, plus a guide to the vegetation types that the individual species occupy. As some individual specimens can be problematic, short keys based on microscopic characters are also provided.

 

Britain’s insects: A Field guide to the insects of Great Britain and Ireland | Paul brock
Flexibound | May 2021

Britain’s Insects remains just as popular this month! This field guide is an innovative, up-to-date, carefully designed and beautifully illustrated field guide to Britain and Ireland’s 25 insect orders, concentrating on popular groups and species that can be identified in the field.

 

Featuring superb photographs of live insects, Britain’s Insects covers the key aspects of identification and provides information on status, distribution, seasonality, habitat, food plants and behaviour.

 

 

Insectinside: Life in the Bushes of a Small Peckham Park | Penny Metal
Paperback | October 2017  

As recently featured on BBC’s Springwatch, Insectinside is a fantastic book featuring hundreds of species of insect that have all been found in Warwick Gardens in Peckham by author, Penny Metal.

We caught up with Penny to ask her some questions about her book – read the full interview here.

 

Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland | Paul Waring, Et al.
Paperback |  November 2018

The third edition of the Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland is a fully revised and updated version.

This field guide includes beautiful illustrations displaying key features to help with identification. It covers flight season, life cycle, larval foodplants, habitat and more, along with maps presenting distribution information.

The revised edition also contains an introduction explaining how the methods of identifying and recording moths have evolved over recent years.

 

Ecology and Natural history | David Wilkinson
Paperback | June 2021

The latest addition to the New Naturalist Series, Ecology and Natural History, makes it into the top ten again this month.

Ecology is the science of ecosystems, of habitats, of our world and its future. In the latest New Naturalist, ecologist David M. Wilkinson explains key ideas of this crucial branch of science, using Britain’s ecosystems to illustrate each point.

Read our Q&A with David M. Wilkinson here.

We have a limited number of signed bookplates for the hardback edition, available while stocks last. 

 

secrets of a devon wood: my nature journal | jo brown
Hardback | October 2020

Another repeat occurrence in this months Top 10, Secrets of a Devon Wood is still high up on NHBS’s list. Artist and illustrator Jo Brown started keeping her nature diary in a bid to document the small wonders of the wood behind her home in Devon. This book is an exact replica of her original black Moleskin journal, a rich illustrated memory of Jo’s discoveries in the order in which she found them.

Jo very kindly agreed to answer some of our questions for a Q&A. Read the full interview here.

 

A Comprehensive Guide to Insects of Britain & Ireland | Paul  D. Brock
Flexibound | October 2019

A Comprehensive Guide to Insects of Britain & Ireland is a complete, photographic field guide to over 2,300 species of insects in Britain and Ireland – including beetles, flies, ants, bees, and wasps. The clear photograph will assist in the identification of the majority of insects likely to be encountered.

This guide also contains concise text on behaviour, present-day conservation status, and pointers on species of similar appearance. Serious naturalists will welcome notes on areas to look for rarities and information on where to look for additional information on particular insect groups

 

All the Birds of the World | Josep Del Hoyo          Hardback | August 2020

Another title from our publisher of the month, Lynx Edicions, is All the Birds of the World. With the completion of the famed Handbook of the Birds of the World, this book lists all the birds of the world, allowing readers to browse and compare Earth’s amazing avian diversity between the covers of one volume.

 

 

This Week in Biodiversity News – 2nd August 2021

A new conservation tool has been launched by the IUCN that aims to help species ‘thrive, not just survive’. This tool will measure how close a species is to recovering its original population size, rather than focusing on how close the species is to extinction. This hopes to highlight conservation achievements as well as increase ambition for long-term species recovery.

Livestock has been returned to Studland Bay to help with the restoration of sand dunes. In Dorset, a herd of 10 grazing cattle managed by the National Trust are being used to control the overgrown vegetation on the coastal sand dunes at Studland Bay, as part of a project called Dynamic Dunescapes. This project aims to restore 7,000 hectares of coastal sand dunes.

The African wild dog has returned to southern Malawi for the first time in 20 years. An endangered species with only 6,600 individuals left in Africa, this translocation to a reserve in Malawi will hopefully boost the conservation of the species, as it struggles to cope with increasing temperatures.

A rewilding project in Norfolk has revealed several rare plant species. The reestablishment of many lost ponds within Norfolk has led to the discovery of multiple endangered plant species, including one that hasn’t been seen in the county since the early 1900s! These newly flooded wetlands are helping to boost biodiversity in the area.

There is good news for the northern pool frog, which is currently the centre of a project that is reversing its extinction in the UK. First introduced from Sweden to a secret site in Norfolk in 2005, the population has now grown enough that more than 1,000 tadpoles have been released at new sites elsewhere in Norfolk at Thompson Common.

Book Review: A Trillion Trees by Fred Pearce

A Trillion Trees is an optimistic take on the future of the world’s forests, with Fred Pearce believing that the damage humanity has inflicted can be undone, so long as nature is allowed space to recover. The book opens with an introduction to the myth and magic of forests. Through describing a botanical explorer’s conservation of orchids in the rainforests of Ecuador, recounting one of the author’s most memorable forest experiences (getting lost in a wood on the North Downs as a child), and presenting the varied reactions of early European explorers to the rainforests of the tropics, Pearce laments the loss of ‘primaeval wildness’ and the untouched forests of those times. 

Since 1992, Pearce has been writing for New Scientist magazine on the importance of trees, as well as their ownership, uses, protection, and destruction. He has spent his career contributing to multiple well-known publications, writing a range of books, and speaking on environmental issues such as carbon emissions, invasive species, and climate change. Despite forty years of continued reporting on global environmental issues, he maintains optimism for the future and for forest regrowth.

Pearce’s enthusiasm and respect for trees is clear throughout. This book celebrates trees, exploring their importance and the impact they have on the climate, the history of how our relationship with forests has changed, the recovery that is already taking place, and the future role of trees in an emerging community-centred approach to the land. Pearce intersperses topics on the politicisation of forest and climate research, the impacts of deforestation, and the damage of acid rain. He also includes some of his personal adventures, such as his visit to the ATTO, a 325m tall tower in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, and the exploits of others, such as a bush pilot’s flight along the ‘flying river’ above the Amazon. 

A Trillion Trees champions the role of trees in more than just the fight against climate change, but also in the daily lives of everyday people. The tales of forest regeneration tell of the economic value of trees, through tourism, increased resources, and even ‘inspiration for artists’. Pearce presents the debate of rewilding versus replanting forests, asking who should be responsible for the regeneration of our forests and whether we should be taking an active role at all.  The ‘great forest restoration’, as Pearce puts it, is occurring less due to the many government plans and promises of replanting, and more through the process of rewilding. Where farmers and landowners have stepped back, Pearce notes that nature seems to move in, allowing much of the fields and pastures to revert to shrubland and then to woodland. The return of wildlife soon follows. 

In a world scrambling for solutions to combat climate change, the notion of stepping back and taking a passive role in regeneration may be a daunting one. However, it is not the only solution Pearce suggests. In the final section, Forest Commons, the author advocates for the rights of indigenous people to own and manage the land and forests within their traditional/ancestral territories. The rate of deforestation is far less in areas owned and managed by indigenous people than in other areas, even nature reserves, with communities seeming more resilient against threats such as illegal logging than government-owned parks. 

This book closes by paying homage to the wild spaces near the author’s home in London, their ability to filter out noise and pollution, and the calming, cooling effects trees can have in otherwise overheated cities. After a book full of adventure and debate, the postscript acts almost like the ‘forest bathing’ it discusses, ending the book in a calmer tone that calls for more woods full of darkness and gnarled, twisted yew trees and forests that harken back to the lost primaeval wilderness.