July 22, 2021

Species Spotlight: The Labyrinth Spider

Hi everyone

This will be the first in a new weekly series of closer looks, where I do a short blog with some more information about a species that one of our participants has in the previous week.

We're kicking off with the Labyrinth spider (Agelena labyrinthica), a spider species found across Europe. This species is instantly noticeable due to their conspicuous (and pretty big!) webs - they're funnel-shaped, often found a few feet off the ground, and may be constructed over several bushes. When I first spotted these webs I panicked that Wales had had an invasion of funnel web spiders from Australia, but a quick Google search showed me it was the work of our native, and harmless, labyrinth spider. Definitely check out their webs on Google Images - they construct magnificent tunnels!

So let's talk about those webs first. They look striking from a distance, with their long tunnel... but, if you were able (and brave enough) to venture down the tunnel you would be greeted with a series of smaller, more intricate labyrinths (hence the name). The reason for this elaborate construction is to protect her unborn children. Like hidden treasure in an adventure film, the centre of the maze contains the spider's egg sac (more on her children shortly).

The tunnels aren't the only cool thing about these webs. They're also incredibly strong, so much so that 16th Century monks used to layer them to use as canvas for painting. Good luck doing that with your common house spider webs! The webs need to be pretty robust because the labyrinth spider likes to snack on some larger insects, including crickets - you certainly need a strong web to catch a cricket.

As you might have guessed from their prey, labyrinth spiders are one of the lager spider species in the UK. However, you're most likely to see the females of this species (the larger sex, as is the case with most spiders) hunched up in their tunnel, disguising their true size. I was lucky enough to record two spiders venture our of their tunnels to have a fight and/or mate (myself and the British Arachnological Society couldn't quite figure out for definite what was going on, although most likely mating) - you can see the clip here: https://twitter.com/kieranscience/status/1416402569702821894

If it was indeed mating, then the female spider will soon retreat back to her tunnel to guard her egg sac. Now, like any mother, the labyrinth spider wants the best possible start in life for her children. However, like many of her fellow spider species, the labyrinth spider really takes this to the extreme - as if building a sturdy, intricate fortress to protect her eggs wasn't enough, the labyrinth spider mum will then make the ultimate sacrifice as one last act of motherly love.... that's right, labyrinth spiders practice matriphagy!

If you're wracking your brain trying to piece together some Latin and you think "No, I must have got that wrong!".... you haven't! Matri - referring to the mother; phagy - referring to eating! Yep, as her last act on Earth, the labyrinth spider mother will let her babies actually eat her, providing the new hatchlings with a nourishing first meal before they set out in the big wide world! Luckily (if that's the right word) for the mother, she dies before her young hatch, so at least she isn't eaten alive. Always look on the bright side!

Posted on July 22, 2021 14:06 by kieran-182 kieran-182 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 19, 2021

Summer Events (and much more)

Hi everyone,

Hope you're enjoying/enduring the marvellous/oppressive weather! Whatever your thoughts on the current heat, it's certainly great weather for spotting wildlife (but don't forget to check the shade for those creatures that prefer to stay cool!). Lots of updates in this post so bear with me! There is news about some FREE summer events around Wrecsam, so scroll to the bottom of the post for that info.

Over the last week I have been on holiday in New Quay (Ceredigion) - I walked a few routes on the Wales coastal path, and visited the National Botanic Gardens of Wales. Basically three days of Wild Watch heaven! You can see what I found on the observations page. I was particularly fascinated by the labyrinth spiders I found (a new animal to me). I made a short video about them on which I posted on Twitter, as well as recording a video of two of them fighting. Here is a link to these videos (copy and paste the URLs into your search bar, as hyperlinks don't seem to be working):

After doing these videos I decided I'd start a NEW WEEKLY FEATURE on this blog - each week I will take one species someone has recored the previous week and do a short blog talking about that species. I will start tomorrow with some more information on the labyrinth spider, so check back soon for updates!

Anyway, onto the FREE summer events. We have one this Friday (23rd July) and one next Tuesday (27th July). Both are in collaboration with UK charity Groundwork, whom I have run a Wild Watch event with before. Both events are fun, family-friendly, and relaxed guided tours of local nature reserves, giving you the chance to do some Wild Watch recording in an informal manner. Both events last about an hour and will involve an easy walk around the sites, stopping along the way to explore and record. Suitable for all ages!
The first event is at Plas Power, Tanyfron - link to event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/402589147824518/?ref=newsfeed

The second event is at Minera Lead Mines - https://www.facebook.com/events/1251107758677760/?ref=newsfeed

Whilst I'm at these events, I am taking the opportunity to do some filming about Wild Watch and citizen science in general, so I can share this with you guys to help you learn more about the project. I will also be recording some videos for Ridgefield Park Library's Citizen Science Club in New Jersey, USA! I am beyond delighted that this group are using Wild Watch to help teach their club about citizen science, so a big shoutout and DIOLCH to them!

Check in tomorrow to learn more about the labyrinth spider and, until then, enjoy the Sun!

Cheers,
Kieran

Posted on July 19, 2021 16:05 by kieran-182 kieran-182 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 18, 2021

Summer is here

Hi everyone,

Cheers for another great week! Plenty of brilliant observations - my favourite this week is the horned palassus beetle from Loogna in Tennessee. Check it out, it's huge!

We've had some brilliant weather and hopefully it will be here for most of the summer (next week excluded!) - it's the perfect chance to take your time exploring nature and looking for wildlife. Every single record you make is so important. Each of them help scientists learn more about the biodiversity of that area and how best to protect it.

Now that the weather has picked up, we are starting to take Wild Watch to schools. We had our first session the other day at an after school club near Chester. The children had great fun finding all sorts of insects and arachnids in their school garden. This was definitely helped by the purchase of insect viewing pots (small plastic pots with a magnified lid - they're only about £1.50 online or in our gift shop). We also gave them sheets to mark how many species they found in each microhabitat in the garden - I let them decide which areas constituted a microhabitat, so we had a chance to discuss what a habitat is and what sort of creatures might like each one.

We will be visiting a few more schools before the summer holidays. I will also be running a session with the Digging Deeside group, a community social garden group for vulnerable and isolated adults. It's fantastic to be able to show a wide range of people how fun and accessible citizen science and wildlife recording are.

We will be running some more FREE events in the Wrecsam area throughout the summer. Details are coming soon - keep your eye on this blog or the Xplore social media channels for updates.

Have a great weekend - looking forward to seeing what you all find!

Diolch
Kieran

Posted on June 18, 2021 14:44 by kieran-182 kieran-182 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 07, 2021

Important Work

Hi everyone,

Another great week last week, with plenty of observations - I'm sure the Sun finally making an appearance in Wales helped a lot!

We also ran our first two events, one in the Science Garden at Glyndŵr University and one at Groundwork's Plas Power nature reserve in Tanyfron. It was fantastic to see young children attending these events and experiencing nature in a new way - each child that attended was given a magnifying class and collection pot, and it was brilliant watching them take their time to explore and look at habitats closely. This project is all about education and enjoyment, so this really was awesome.

Observation highlights from these events include many bushes absolutely teeming with alder beetles (they have a wonderful metallic blue lustre) and a cricket! We've also had some great observations from America this week - I particularly like the jumping spiders with their awesome patterns!

I've just attended an environmental communicators conference with the Natural History Consortium. A lot of the talks focussed on increasing participation in environmental communication and research, and the importance of authentic, fun, inclusive, and accessible projects in this mission. I think Wild Watch has made a really good start along these lines, so I want to say a huge DIOLCH YN FAWR to everyone for all your work so far! You're really making a difference, not only by providing important scientific data, but by showing others how wildlife spotting really is a fun and easy activity that anyone can get involved with.

Looking forward to seeing what we find this week!
Kieran

Posted on June 07, 2021 15:33 by kieran-182 kieran-182 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 28, 2021

Half Term - FREE Wild Watch Events

Hi everybody,

Great first week - we are beyond thrilled to have so many observers from outside Wales. A huge CROESO to all our participants from America! Diolch yn fawr/thank you so much for joining in.

It's half-term next week in Wales and we have two FREE Wild Watch events you can attend. Both of these are chance for you to explore a nature spot and record some wildlife there, as well as learning more about wildlife and citizen science. You will also be given a FREE pack to create your own butterfly feeder to attract butterflies to your garden (remember to photograph them and share with the page!).

EVENT 1 - Saturday 29th May, 12:00 - 14:00.
Explore Glyndŵr University's science garden with Xplore and the creator of the science garden. Tickets available here - https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wild-watch-with-xplore-tickets-155816189417?fbclid=IwAR26FINwLi_LkJHeN9uqvs8tp8krQXxDGJCuNP_i5RIRbEXBeRa1JFNiQNY

EVENT 2 - Friday 4th June, 14:00 - 16:30.
(In collaboration with Groundworks) - Enjoy a guided tour of the Plas Power nature reserve in Tanyfron, stopping along the way to explore and record some wildlife. Again, FREE butterfly feeder packs available. Tickets available here - https://www.facebook.com/events/2932770007050901?acontext=%7B%22event_action_history%22%3A[%7B%22surface%22%3A%22page%22%7D]%7D

We are planning some more events over the course of the summer, so keep your eyes peeled for news on Xplore's social media pages and website, or on this journal.

Diolch
Kieran

Posted on May 28, 2021 11:01 by kieran-182 kieran-182 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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