British spider guide: how to identify common species and where to see

Autumn is a good time to appreciate spiders, when they reach full maturity towards the end of their commonly one-year life cycles. Our expert spider guide looks at how to identify UK species, what habitats they favour and where to find (or avoid!) them.

Walnut orb weaver spider

Autumn is a good time to appreciate spiders, when they reach full maturity towards the end of their commonly one-year life cycles, says entomologist Richard Jones. 

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Here is our expert guide to British spiders, including how to identify different species and where to find (or avoid!) them.

Garden or diadem Spider Araneus diadematus

Garden or Diadem spider
Although commonly known as the ‘garden’ spider, the diadem spider can be found almost everywhere in Britain (Photo by: Getty Images)

Named for the diadem on its back (a pale circle and four radiating gleams), this has many colour forms including brown, yellow-green and orange. It spins spiral webs along hedges and between tall stems.

Wasp stinging

Four spot orb-weaver Araneus quadratus

Four spot orb weaver spider
The four spot orb weaver spider usually weaves webs between adjacent plants (Photo by: Getty Images)

Britain’s largest spider is plumper, broader, rounder than the garden spider, with four indented dimples on its abdomen, usually outlined with four white spots.

Makes webs in long grass and dense shrubs.

Bridge orb-weaver Larinioides sclopetarius

Bridge orb weaver spider
The bridge orb weaver spider is often found in light areas near water (Photo by: Getty Images)

Elegantly marked, this has velvety grey-and-white colouring (brown hints sometimes) and an undulating white line down each side of its abdomen. Its webs are over water on bridges, lock gates and wharves.

Water spider Argyroneta aquatica

Water spider
The water spider is the only British spider that lives permanently under slightly flowing and moving water  (Photo by: Getty Images)

Britain’s only subaquatic spider is reddish brown and grey, streaked, but appears silver because of an air bubble over its abdomen. It makes an air-filled silk-stranded diving bell in pond and stream weeds. 

False widow Steatoda nobilis

False widow spider
According to the National History Museum, the false widow spider was first recorded in Britain in the 1870s, ‘likely a stowaway on cargo ships from its native Madeira and Canary Islands.’ (Photo by: Getty Images)

Glossy black, sometimes with pale crescent on front of abdomen; male has pale mottled fleur-de-lis mark on back of abdomen. It makes a scaffold web in sheds and can give a painful nip if picked up. So don’t.

Walnut orb-weaver Nuctenea umbratica

Walnut orb weaver spider
The walnut orb weaver spider appears almost leathery in some lights (Getty Images)

Glossy dark-brown above, fawn at edges, separated by undulating pale line on each side of abdomen. Broad and flattened, it hides in cracks in fenceposts or under tree bark by day and spins web at night. 

Wasp spider Argiope bruennichi

Wasp spider
The Wildlife Trust says that the wasp spider is most commonly found in Sothern England, but is spreading north. Although it looks like a wasp, it is not dangerous (Photo by: Getty Images)

Unmistakable, massive, barred black-and-yellow female; the male is smaller, narrower with orange abdomen. Its low web in long grass has a broad vertical stripe of fuzzy white silk. Grasshopper predator.

Raft spider Dolomedes fimbriatus

Raft spider
Raft spiders are some of the largest spiders in Britain (Photo by: Getty Images)

Huge and dark chocolate brown, this is edged with two contrasting yellow-white stripes down sides of abdomen; legs are paler. Common in lowland wetlands, fens and boggy upland moors, it walks on water.

Giant house spider Tegenaria gigantea

Giant house spider
Giant house spiders like living in the dark areas of your home, like under the sofa (Photo by: Getty Images)
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In browns and greys, its abdomen chevron-marked, very long legs. It makes an untidy web with tubular retreat behind furniture or loose skirting, but also under logs and in hollow trees – its original habitat.