European Cave Spider
The European Cave Spider (Meta menardi) is a species of orbweaver spider that has a natural range that extends from Scandinavia to North America and from Europe to Korea. It was introduced into other areas such as Japan and Madagascar. This is one of the largest species of spider found in the United Kingdom (only the Raft Spider is bigger). Other common names for this species is the Orbweaving Cave Spider, Cave Orbweaver and simply Cave Spider.
The adult has a body length of 0.6 inches and a legspan of almost 2 inches. The body is reddish-brown. The adult spider is photophobic and lives in areas that are free from light. Caves and tunnels are especially preferred. The young are, by contrast, strongly attracted to light. The egg sac is tear shaped. It is often found hanging from the roof of the spider’s habitat by a silk thread about 0.75 inches long. This species feeds mostly on small invertebrates, frequently myriapods and slugs.
The Cave Spider is not dangerous and although it has venom, its effect on large mammals is insignificant. It is unlikely to bite if handled carefully, but may deliver an unpleasant nip if provoked, otherwise they are non-aggressive. This slow-moving spider is commonly regarded (by arachnophiles) as a “gentle giant”.
A media frenzy was caused when British Telecom engineers working in the grounds of Windsor Castle discovered a colony living in conduits and manholes. These were incorrectly described as swarms of aggressive spiders, up to 4 inches in size (a classic arachnophobic size estimate). The error was compounded when they were identified as a new and probably highly venomous species by a misinformed entomologist. The initial incident was widely reported but when the species was properly identified the matter received little publicity.