British spider guide: how to identify common species, where to see and why spiders come into the house in autumn and winter

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.

Spider web lit up from behind by low lying sun

Autumn is the best season to appreciate spiders, when seasonal dew turns garden webs into a glittering display. Spiders are more visible in autumn because most of them are looking for a mate, having reached full maturity towards the end of their commonly one-year life cycles.

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Many garden spiders may be found inside the house as autumn progresses.

What attracts spiders to the house in autumn?

As temperatures outside cool, many invertebrates including spiders are drawn towards the warmth of the inside of houses from our gardens, sneaking under doors and under roof tiles. They make webs in corners of rooms, under furniture and around window frames to catch insects that are also attracted to the warmth.

How do you keep spiders out of your house?

There is no easy way to prevent spiders from entering your house. They are harmless and, indeed, may provide a service by ridding you of unwanted flies and other insects. There are many pesticide sprays that you can use to kill insects and spiders but we would not recommend the use of chemicals. At night, try not to leave windows open in rooms where lights are on – these attract insects, which then attract spiders.

The most humane way to capture a spider is to trap it beneath a wide-rimmed glass and then slide a piece of card under the glass to make a lid and contain the spider inside. Then release the spider unharmed into the garden.

Do spiders crawl up plugholes?

No. They occasionally fall into sinks and baths and then cannot climb up the steep, smooth sides.

How many species of spiders are there in Britain?

There are 650 species of spider in the UK.

Can you be bitten by a spider in the UK?

According to the Natural History Museum, there are 12 species of spider in the UK that could bite you – and only 2 or 3 of these can cause any significant pain. None cause any long-term harm. Spider bites are rare and only happen when the spider feels threatened and trapped – such as when trodden on or picked up.

Here is our expert guide to some of the larger 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./Credit: 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 and sits in the centre waiting for prey to become entrapped. Body length up to 18mm.

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./Credit: Getty Images.

Plumper, broader, rounder than the garden spider, with four indented dimples on its abdomen, usually outlined with four white spots but very variable. Up to 17mm in length. More usually found in grassland and heaths – webs are stretched between plants with a funnel retreat at one side. The heaviest British spider. 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./Credit: 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. Head and body up to 14mm in length.

Water spider Argyroneta aquatica

water spider argyroneta aquatica
The water spider visits a ponds surface to trap an air bubble using hairs on its abdomen. This allows it to breathe and spend its life below the surface and hunt small creatures including fish./Credit: 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. Head and body 15mm.

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.’/Credit: Getty Images.

Of the three false widow species in the UK, this is the largest – females have a head-body length of 14mm. 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./Credit: Getty Images.

Glossy dark-brown above, fawn at edges, separated by undulating pale line on each side of abdomen. Broad and distinctively flattened, it hides in cracks in fenceposts or under tree bark by day and spins web at night. Body up to 15mm long.

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./Credit: 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. Head and body up to 18mm.

Raft spider Dolomedes fimbriatus

Raft spider
Raft spiders are some of the largest spiders in Britain./Credit: 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. Head and body up to 20mm long.

Giant house spider Tegenaria gigantea

The giant house spider is dark brown area with lighter mottled brown patches in a chevron shape
Giant house spiders love to live in the dark corners of your house, like under the sofa./Credit: Darkone/CC BY-SA 2.0
Darkone. Image used under license: CC BY-SA 2.0

A large brown or grey spider with a leg span of up to 8cm. It chevron marked body maybe an impressive 16mm (incl head). It makes an untidy web with tubular retreat behind furniture or loose skirting, but also under logs and in hollow trees – its original habitat. Can scuttle up to 50cm per second.

Zebra spider Salticus scenicus

Zebra spider – Countryfile guide to spiders
The zebra spider uses its four pairs of large eyes to locate prey and its jumping ability to pounce and capture it. The scientific name, Salticus scenius, means ‘theatrical jumper’. (Photo by Getty Images)
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A common spider of garden and homes that doesn’t weave a web. Instead it ambushes insect prey by jumping on them. Its 7mm long black and white striped ‘zebra; body is comparatively large compared to its short legs, which are designed to spring the creature into the air.