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Ghent University seeks volunteers for its spider-hunt

Photo by Declan Lopez on Unsplash

Today sees the launch of the first-ever spider-count in Flanders, where members of the public are encouraged to go out into the garden and count how many spiders are there.

The project is organised by the university of Ghent, Natuurpunt and the Belgian Arachnological Association (ARABEL).The purpose of the exercise is to determine if and how well the spider can adapt to life in the city.

Right now is mating time for spiders, and the ones you’re likely to see are males on the hunt for a female with whom to mate. The scientists are particularly interested in the European garden spider (Araneus diadematus), also known variously as the diadem spider, orangie, cross spider or crowned orb weaver.

“We mainly want to know whether garden spiders can adapt to the city and how they do so,” said biologist Bram Vanthournout.

In particular, the scientists want to know if the spider is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as abnormal warmth or drought.

And if you do spot spiders, don’t be tempted to drive them away. The garden spider is an extremely effective partner in fighting off pests like flies and mosquitoes.

“Just walk around your garden and count how many garden spiders are active in the middle of their webs,” Vanthournout told the VRT.

“It is a large spider with the typical white cross on its back.”

© Gail Hampshire/Wikimedia

The cross spider seems unusually well-suited to life in the city, as at home in urban conditions as in the woods.

“You can find it on a blackberry bush in a forest, or on a bench in a park. It seems that it can successfully adapt to different conditions,” Vanthournout said.

“Walk around at night with your torch and count them. Research shows that this spider is very active at night, more than we thought. Artificial light attracts more prey for the spiders. That way, they can serve themselves a nice meal.”