A photo story for your entertainment. On a training day this week, The Ranger and his colleagues discovered a small hole in the ground near a little-used public footpath; on investigation the hole led to an intriguing tunnel.
A hole in the ground… but what’s inside?
Imagining himself too sensible or, perhaps more honestly, acknowledging himself a little more portly than his companions, The Ranger declined to go down – but when they returned with tales of massive spiders, his interest was kindled. On examining the photos they brought back he was delighted to identify Meta menardi, the cave spider, a fairly common but hardly-ever recorded spider which lives almost exclusively in complete darkness, and so is rarely seen and often thought of as very rare. So, the next day, armed with camera and slightly more appropriate gear, he arrived on site and prepared to enter the grotto.
Preparing to descend
The first thing that he noticed was a tiny rocky tunnel with water in it, and a nice plastic bag floating there, too. The second thing was the smell – that place stank.
The Ranger was glad he’d shed all his jumpers and fleeces, and was wearing his slippery Barbour oilcloth coat, as he then had crouch, walking bent-kneed in Groucho Marx-style, to squeeze down the tiny, slimy tunnel, splashing through the stagnant water. You’ll probably have spotted that he also swapped his normal hat for a more expendable one! Manipulating both the torch and the camera was a challenge, but whilst doing that he spotted a tell-tale sign of Meta menardi – the characteristic egg sac suspended from the ceiling, on a stalk about 20mm long:
Stunning! After dropping one torch into the filth and having to retrieve it with his bare hands, The Ranger finally came face to face with his quarry – the slow-moving gentle giant of the UK spider world; with a body about 15mm long, and a awesome leg span of about 60mm (more than two inches).
Meta menardi (c) Karl Dyson
On further inspection, there were probably a dozen mature specimens, and probably some immature ones. The Ranger gazed at these cave-dwellers in wonder. What a treat!
Eventually, the stench and crouching became too much, and the spell was broken. The Ranger had to reverse clumsily away from his new spider friends and re-enter the real world. He was delighted with the success of his mission. But there was one task remaining!
The spiders probably don’t get many visitors, but some passer-by had let a plastic bag fall into their cave, and The Ranger brought it out as mitigation for having disturbed the silent darkness. He emptied the filthy water from the bag, and found it to be one of the rankest-smelling objects he’d ever encountered. It didn’t help that he was covered in the slime himself, either. Far from the nearest bin, he had to carry the reeking bag at arm’s length back to the car park, shunned by his companions. At last he was able to pay his debt to the spiders, and put the bag in a bin; then the party could retire to the pub to sip restorative shandy and boast about the size of ‘the ones that got away’…