Monday, 25 September 2017

Book Review - Britain's Spiders 'WILDguides'

My latest acquisition in the WILDGuides series, published by Princeton books is a must have for anyone interested in Britains Spiders. I have always strived to learn more about them after encountering interesting (usually showy) species, e.g.  Argiope bruenichii (Wasp Spider) and Dolomedes fimbriatus (Raft Spider). Easy going books on the subject are few and far between but this new book perfectly fills the niche for a 'photo guide' once occupied by the Dick Jones Hamlyn guide, now out of print. The target audience is from the keen novice (that's me!) to dedicated arachnophile.

As with others in the series, the book is roughly 8" x 6", comes in a very durable softcover, and with 480 pages, weighs in at 1025g so it's not exactly one for the pocket but will easily fit into a small backpack!  All 37 British Spider Families are featured, illustrated with more than 700 photographs. The authors concentrate on the species that can be identified in the field and include 395 of Britain's species. Considering there are approximately 670 species known in Britain, the hard core 'hand lens' species which belong to a more specialised realm are wisely not included here.

Go on, admit it - aren't you just dying to get the macro lens out to try and find, then photograph the  Jumping Spider (Evarcha arcuata) featured on the cover ? Bearing in mind this female is only 6-8mm long you get a feel for the quality of images in the book. Whilst most images are reproduced from 2 - 10x 'life size',  each are reproduced at the perfect size for the illustration of key identification features. The book concentrates on the basics throughout the early pages, taking a journey through spider anatomy and the glossary of terms used within the book. The spider families are briefly described, detailing their characteristics and key features A section on webs, compares the various types of structures created by our various spiders, concise notes then consider the architecture of the web, where they might be found and the species most likely to be associated with them. Armed with this basic information, the individual species accounts lie in wait to fully describe the species covered in this book. Over 300 pages are devoted to the species accounts, so for an unidentified species, it helps if you can narrow your search by pre-reading through the families and webs first.

Local nature lovers in Shropshire and arachnophiles elsewhere should not require any introduction to Dolomedes fimbriatus or Argiope bruennichi. They were my 'stepping stone' species to a wider interest in spiders. A couple of snapshots from the book (below) detail the  standard approach to each species which is mirrored in all the others. For each species, there are observation tips / habitat, a description pointing out similar or confusion species and the distribution / status. The map denotes the current range and a table below denotes the UK occurrence for males and females. This is derived from the BAS spider recording scheme and the darker the shading indicates those months with the highest number of observations. 

When confronted with a web containing both male and female Wasp Spiders, you immediately realise there is a huge difference in size between the sexes. In addition to this, the seasonal appearance may differ and the male Wasp Spiders may appear a month later than females..

Towards the back of the book, there is a complete list of all the spiders recorded in Britain which covers 35 pages and details the ease with which they can be identified. The book itself focuses on those species which can be identified in the field.

The authors: Lawrence Bee, Geoff Oxford and Helen Smith are to be commended for ensuring the book does not overwhelm the reader, yet is full of the science and biology of these fascinating creatures - produced in collaboration with the British Arachnological Society .

 I can't believe that anyone with an interest in nature would not find this to be the perfect book to have on the subject. From 'beginner' to serious spider observers, this is the benchmark field guide.

Published by Princeton the full details can be found here and there is also a link to page examples. The RRP is £24.95 (UK) but offers may be found elsewhere e.g Amazon.

Footnote: I had long wondered if this impressive 'beast' (below) taken on a small pool near Loch Garten in 2012 was truly Dolomedes fimbriatus. It has been identified as such by the gurus at the British Spiders Recording Scheme but illustrates the point, like many wild creatures, some spiders are quite variable in their appearance.  I have never seen another image, in a book or on the web depicting this species like this one!

Enjoy your journey with spiders! You will enjoy it even more and make faster progress, with this book to guide you!

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