The word attercop is derived from Old English attor-coppa, the term for spider, taken from Old Norse edderkop (‘poison-head’), referring to spiders having a poisonous sting. Lob and Cob also mean ‘spider’. The term tomnoddy means ‘a foolish or stupid person’.
The full title of the book is quite laborious, in Swedish: Svenska Spindlar uti sina hufvud-slägter indelte samt under några och sextio särskildte arter beskrefne och med illuminerade figurer uplyste, på Kongl. Vetensk. Societ. i Upsala befallning utgifne.
In Latin: Aranei Svecici, descriptionibus et figuris æneis illustrati, ad genera subalterna redacti, speciebus ultra LX determinati, auspiciis Regiæ Societatis Scientiarum Upsaliensis.
Translated to English: “Swedish spiders into their main genera separated, and as sixty and a few particular species described and with illuminated figures illustrated, published by order of the Royal Scientific Society in Upsala.”
These spiders are also called orb-weavers, from the old English word orb, meaning ‘ball-shaped’ or ‘circular’, in this case referring to the circular webs, which are suspended among vegetation, in fences, and other places.
The spider sits with one pair of legs in each of the four directions of the X, or aligned with the zig-zag pattern. This often makes the animal extremely visible, and many scientists have speculated as to what purpose this pattern is made. One theory is that its visibility might prevent large animals from accidentally destroying the web. Research has also shown that the pattern reflects ultra-violet light, which may attract prey to the web.
The female, which is many times larger than the male, can grow to 6 cm in body length, with a leg span up to 15 cm, whereas the body length of males is only around 6 mm.
The generic name is derived from the Greek nein (‘to spin’) and philos (‘love’), thus ‘fond of spinning’. The web of these spiders is enormous, up to 2 m across, with supporting strands much longer. The webs of different females are sometimes inter-connected, together covering many square metres. Small birds and bats are reported to have been caught in these strong webs.
Once, when I was hiking up the Marsyangdi Valley in central Nepal, I observed some children throwing something at female hikers, who then screamed and ran for dear life, while the children were laughing heartily. When I asked the children what they were doing to the poor tourists, they showed me several large orb-weavers, which they had collected from nearby webs.
The female has a very colourful abdomen, with yellow and reddish-brown patterns. In Japan, it is known as jorogumo, derived from joro (‘prostitute’) and gumo (‘spider’). In Japanese folklore, jorogumo is a legendary creature, known for its allure and deadly nature. It is often depicted as a spider, which is capable of transforming into a seductive woman to lure unsuspecting victims. (Source: jorospider.com/jorogumo-legend)
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘club-footed’, presumably referring to the striking tufts of hair on the legs of the female.
Most authorities place this animal in the genus Nephila, which is most odd, as the very closely related African golden-legged orb-weaver, found in southern Africa, and on Madagascar, the Seychelles, Réunion, Mauritius, and Rodrigues, is placed in the genus Trichonephila, named T. inaurata.
Indeed, I find it strange that the animals on the Comoro Islands should be a separate species, as those on all the surrounding islands are regarded as belonging to the African species. So maybe they are the same species?
This small spider, growing to 6 mm long, is abundant throughout Europe, and has also been introduced to north-eastern United States. It lives in low vegetation, where it spins a horizontal sheet-web, waiting on the underside for prey. Small insects, which climb on a maze of web threads above the horizontal sheet-web, may fall down onto the sheet, where they are killed by the spider.
The name skull spider alludes to Pholcus phalangioides, whose front part of the body slightly resembles a human skull. The body of adult females is about 8 mm long, males a bit smaller, whereas the legs are 4 or 5 cm long. Originally, it was native to warmer parts of Asia, but has been spread by people to all continents, except Antarctica. It has spread considerably in northern Europe in later years. It is completely harmless to humans.
One member of the family is the European cave spider (Meta menardi), which is distributed from Scandinavia and Britain southwards to North Africa, and thence eastwards to Korea and Japan. Adults shun light, living in dark places, such as caves, tunnels, and mines, but will emerge around dusk to hunt, often using a single silk lasso line, which is thrown on their prey.
As its name implies, the pine processionary moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) lays eggs on pines, and the larvae, which live communally in large silken nests, are highly destructive to pine forests, often defoliating entire growths. Previously, this species was native to southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, but the global warming has had the effect that it is spreading northwards, and is now found as far north as northern France.
French entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre (1823-1915) conducted a famous study on the pine processionary caterpillar, described in his book The Life of the Caterpillar (1916). In this experiment, a group of caterpillars marched head-to-tail in a circle around the rim of a flower pot, continuing for a week. He concluded that the caterpillars were mindless automatons, trapped because they were pre-programmed to blindly follow the preceding animal.
The genus Yponomeuta contains more than a hundred species, some of which are agricultural pests.
The native range of the spindle ermine moth (Y. cagnagella), in America known as euonymus webworm, is throughout Europe and the Middle East, eastwards to Siberia. It has also become naturalized in north-eastern North America. The adult moth has a wingspan, ranging from 19 to 26 mm.
The host plant of this species is the European spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus). The caterpillars are gregarious, spinning silk webs and feeding on the leaves within them. When the larvae pupate, they spin silk cocoons around themselves, hanging vertically inside the web. These caterpillars often occur in such numbers that the host tree becomes completely defoliated. In such cases, the larvae spin silk threads to the ground, where they pupate under plants.