Labyrinth Spiders of Manorbier

Friday, August 21, 2020 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


P1240267 - Labyrinth Spider
Choosing places to visit lately includes the additional consideration of how busy said destination is likely to be. Isn't it amazing how crowded this country gets when hordes of tourists aren’t jetting off around the world! For the large part our choices have proven wise with one such being the Pembrokeshire village of Manorbier. Regular readers will no doubt recall previous trip reports and I’m happy to confirm that those red sandstone cliffs, blue seas and artistically positioned castle are all still present and correct.

P1240294 - Manorbier Castle

P1240240 - Swanlake Bay

Birds too were putting on a good show with the fields holding decent flocks of Rook (one of the best corvid species) whilst a pair of Chough (clearly the best corvid species) were regularly patrolling along the coastline though never quite settling within camera range. It was also nice to see Stonechats seemingly having another good year with several family groups spotted. I’ll be honest though, as good as all this was I spent much of our visit with my eyes trained firmly to the ground, or more precisely the Gorse bushes which lined our route. The reason? They were covered in masses of funnel shaped spider webs, home to the aptly named Labyrinth spider. Unlike their Australian cousins, with which these can sometimes be confused, the Labyrinth spider poses no threat to humans. Instead they are a marvel of construction with the funnel leading to a series of tunnels hiding at its heart an egg sac. This the mother will protect until her young are old enough to leave the web. Of course nature being nature nothing is quite as cute or gentle as it may first appear. Not all females for instance survive the vigil but in their passing do provide a handy meal for their emerging offspring.
       
P1240251 - Labyrinth Spider

P1240262 - Labyrinth Spider

P1240249 - Labyrinth Spider

Walking the coast path we must have seen hundreds if not thousands of individuals with some webs so thick as to be almost opaque. Others merged with their neighbours so as to create a metropolis of tunnels and entrances. I can only imagine that at this time of year the hunting must be good and we did spot one lucky spider with a whole moth ensnared upon which to feast.
       
P1240271 - Labyrinth Spider

Getting clear photos was not as easy as the above images may at first suggest. For instance the Labyrinth spider usually sits well back in its funnel meaning that getting the lens in close through that mass of web is a tricky proposition. Touch a single strand and the spider is either going to go hurrying back deeper into cover or jump forwards to see what prey has just stumbled into trouble. Trust me the latter is rather alarming when viewed through a camera up close.
       
P1240267 - Labyrinth Spider

P1240268 - Labyrinth Spider

With so much of my attention being diverted to the ground it was inevitable that we’d discover other macro delights. Chief amongst these and winning the award for most colourful insect of the day was this Rose Chafer, a stunning vision in metallic green which flew in briefly near Swanlake Bay.
       
P1240237 - Rose Chafer

There were caterpillars too (and lots of butterflies but they had an annoying habit of flying away) including my personal favourite, the Cinnabar moth. They were the first we’d seen this year which of course meant that we found two in our own garden as soon we got home. These individuals were however far more photogenic.
     
P1240287 - Cinnabar Moth caterpillars

A few meters away a ball of Peacock caterpillars were another great find considering we’ve seen very few of the butterflies themselves of late.
     
P1240277 - Peacock Caterpillars

I’ll close this entry out with a cautionary tale. Not, as you might think, concerning the insect life or those darting spiders but instead with the pay and display machine in Manorbier itself. Firstly it is cash only so don’t arrive expecting to use contactless or mobile apps (there’s no phone signal anyway). Secondly don’t pay for an all-day ticket in ten pence pieces. The time limit to complete a transaction is insufficient for the feeding in of so many coins resulting in the whole lot being returned to the machine’s change draw. No major issue I hear you say, until that is you realise all that loose change has now jammed said change draw shut with no way of retrieving your money to even attempt a second go. Cue much prodding with keys which, thankfully, proved successful in the end. Never a dull moment where we’re concerned.

2 comments:

  1. The Rose Chafer reminds me of happy afternoons drifting in and out of cloud at the Mull of Galloway, the only place I have seen this sparkling insect. And Manorbier, ah, I was only looking through my old photos the other day. I'm wondering, Adam, if any Small Tortoiseshells have flittered across your path this year? I have only had one 'probable' sighting - such a shame.

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    Replies
    1. I've only seen a single Small Tortoiseshell as well Caroline. Seems to have been a poor year for them again.

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