Spider season: live and let-live

House spider (c) Tone Killick

Is your house playing host to hairy eight-legged Romeos seeking out their Juliets? Don't panic, says Adam Mantell. Spiders are an important part of nature, so consider a live-and-let-live approach.

For some people, the slightest glimpse of a spider is enough to inspire shrieks of fear. Some newspapers take full advantage of this notoriety, and every autumn there’s a surge of stories about spiders “invading” our homes, usually focusing on the largest species or those (often incorrectly) thought to be dangerous.

The truth is spiders live alongside us all year round and this is something to celebrate, not fear. These amazing animals are a vital part of our ecosystems, feeding on an astounding number of insects. It's estimated that across the world, spiders eat between 400 and 800 million tons of insects and other invertebrates a year. Many of the insects they eat are considered pests of food crops, garden plants and even people, so having spiders around is a great natural alternative to pesticides.

Some spiders have found their perfect home in our houses, hiding away behind furniture and hunting the other invertebrates that find their way inside, from house flies to wasps and mosquitoes. They tend to keep themselves to themselves, preferring dark corners where they can live in peace. But in late summer and early autumn, some spiders become more active as males reach maturity and seek out a female to woo. This is when you usually see large house spiders (Tegenaria species) scouring your home looking for a mate.  

The fear of spiders often comes from worries about being bitten, fuelled by urban legends and hyped-up headlines. In reality, very few spiders in the UK are even capable of biting a person, and the small number that can rarely do. So, the next time you spot a spider sheltering in the corner of a room, give it a wave and say keep up the good work!

If you do find a spider in your house, don’t panic and don’t kill it unless you prefer pesky flies of course! Simply put a glass over it and slide a piece of paper beneath it and take it outside. Remember, spiders are harmless and beneficial to the environment, so please treat them humanely. You may never learn to love spiders, but you should definitely learn to live with them.

Here are 10 of the most common spiders you're likely to find around your house this autumn.

• House spiders (Tegenaria species) - Common in and around houses. Very obvious at the moment as they are coming indoors to escape the weather and the males are on the hunt for mates.

• Cellar spider (Pholcus phalangioides)-  which can be seen in houses, sheds, garages etc. When disturbed they gyrate in the web to confuse predators. Despite their diminutive size, this species often hunts and kills much bigger spiders like House Spiders.

• Lace web weavers (Amaurobius similis) - These are common around houses, walls and outbuildings where they find a small crack or hole in the masonry and create a very distinctive scruffy web. The web isn’t sticky but strands are twisted and tangled to snare prey long enough for the spider to pounce.

• False widows - There are a few species of false widows common in and around houses in Ireland. Contrary to scaremongering media reports these large spiders are slow-moving, nocturnal and their bite is no worse than a wasp sting. They can be found in dark, cool places like undisturbed corners of garages and underneath kitchen units where they are not disturbed.

 • Woodlouse spider (Dysdera sp) - this large spider has impressive fangs designed for dealing with the armour plating on woodlice. The best place to look for these is underneath rotting wood, stones etc where there are large numbers of woodlice.

 Snake spider (Segestria senoculata) - so-called because of the diamond-shaped pattern along its back. This species lives underneath loose stones and in holes in rotting wood. Its very simple web is a star-shaped pattern of tripwires radiating from its retreat. When an invertebrate walks over the tripwires the spider detects the vibration and emerges to seize the prey. 

• Missing sector orb weaver (Zygiella x-notata) - This spider makes its home around the edges of windows on virtually every building. It may be most easily spotted by looking for the distinctive yellow silk egg sacs and an orb web with the uppermost sector missing.

Garden spider (Araneus diadematus)- is very obvious in gardens at this time of year, as the females are mature and full of eggs ready to be laid before the winter. It is easy to find by looking for the large orb webs in shrubs and bushes where the spider sits in the middle awaiting prey.

• Zebra spider (Salticus scenicus)- this little spider loves running over hot brick walls on warm sunny days. It doesn’t use a web for catching prey but is very fast and can jump up to 10cm to catch insects. This spider has a curious habit of turning to look directly at your face if you get close to it.