Invasion of the grasshopper snatchers!

What have you found?!

Peace and quiet in the meadow (and indeed you may be surprised to know that for about 15 minutes, despite 20 children, it really was!)

Anyone who visited the nature reserve today would be forgiven for thinking that the snatchers refered to here were the children who attended the “Blashford Bug Hunt” themed Wild Days Out activity day – and indeed the children did catch more than a few grasshoppers in the meadow.

Their exploration of both woodland and grassland habitats also resulted in lots of bush crickets, young smooth newts and toads, ground beetles, soldier beetles, slugs, earthworms, earwigs, lacewing larvae, damselflies, ladybirds, harvestmen, leafhoppers, pill bugs, woodlice, millipedes, centipedes, ants and any number of different bugs – and spiders… including the grasshopper snatchers:

Female wasp spider in web

These impressive spiders, named for their bold black. white and yellow striped abdomens, spin their webs amongst the grass and wildflowers where they sit and wait for insects,  particularly grasshoppers and crickets, to blunder into them. As is often the case with spiders the male is a small and fairly insignificant animal that requires a certain amount of ingenuity, patience and bravery to mate with the female without falling prey to her appetite! Having found a female he will wait for her to reach maturity at her final moult, and then get in there quick before her jaws harden up enough for her to eat him!

First recorded in the UK along the south coast in 1922 they have slowly extended their range northwards and are seen at Blashford Lakes most, but not all years. We saw our first of the year yesterday when one of the children caught one in their sweep net (boy did they get a surprise, and they are not even full grown yet!) and in looking to see if we could spot it again with todays group Michelle actually found 6, all within a 6m length of the path! There may have been more but for them to be in such proximity to each other I assume they are the result of a successful brood (do spiders have “broods?”) last year.

Close  encounter! (The children probably thought so too!)

No children or animals were harmed in the writing of this blog or during the activity day! To find out more about other “Wild Days Out” activity days and family activities this summer see the Wildlife Diary and/or the website.

For those of you who visited the reserve in the last week or so and found the main car park and Tern Hide closed you will be pleased to know that it was re-opened earlier in the week. It had been closed as a precautionary measure when the adjacent Hanson’s site was occupied by a small group of travellers.

Other than that there is little of great import to note other than to say that the regularity of posting to the blog will be interrupted while Bob is away on holiday, but Michelle, Steve and myself will do the best we can in the meantime! Normal service will resume shortly!

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