Fred Hutt our Ranger at Parke told me about this colony of spiders which live in the bothy near the Walled Garden. They are called cave spiders or Meta menardi. As their name suggests these spiders live in caves and other perpetually dark places – they feed on creatures of the dark including hibernating moths and butterflies. The bothy at Parke is now no longer used a a ‘garden shed’ because it is now also home to some greater horseshoe bats – as a result the doors are locked and no light enters – the perfect place for cave spiders. And so it turned out to be – I had a very quick look yesterday and found two of the spider’s egg sacs hanging from the roof.
Just next to one of the egg sacs was a female cave spider – the body of this individual was around 15mm so with the legs it is three times that size. Note the legs – black and red bands – very characteristic.
The interesting question therefore for me is how did the cave spider get to our bothy in the first place – a few years ago it was the gardener’s shed – had light in it and was regularly used – so no good for cave spiders.
These spiders when they are tiny do something called ballooning – that is they get swept up into the air and blown along on the wind – this is how these disperse and colonise new areas. There are lots of old mines and adits on Dartmoor and some in the vicinity to I guess they have colonised from there. There is also one other possibility – ice house at Parke.
It was built at the same time as the Georgian house and was used as a cold store – in cold winters ice from the lake would be brought up to keep everything cool. The one final question for Parke is -are there cave spiders in the ice house? I can’t answer this question at the moment as the padlock in the picture above is so rusted up it won’t open! The Dartmoor National Park Authority rent the ice house and the surrounding grounds (along with the house) from the National Trust – they have kindly agreed to replace the lock – so in the next few days I will hopefully get inside and have a look!
I have found cave spiders in the Lutyens hydro turbine house in the Teign Valley (one yet on the map above) and I would like at some point to have a look in the mine adios at Lydford Gorge for them too.
So now it is 1-1 between myself and Fred – I found the wasp spider and he found the cave spider – oh how we entertain ourselves at work!