Meta data

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 6 February 2018 20:12

This post is like so meta. Cubed. I went to an undisclosed site in East Sussex a few weeks ago and was shown a small natural cave in a sandrock outcrop. I was in there like a shot! There was the ubiquitous Metellina merianae (or as I call it the Cave-entrance Spider) which I see in any tunnel or cave. There were also dozens of Meta menardi, the true cave spider. This is only the second time I have seen this large and impressive spider in Sussex. Well, that's probably because you don't spend enough time in caves I here you say. Wrong I say. I suddenly thought about it and I have looked at loads of caves and tunnels in Sussex with bat specialists such as Tony Hutson and moth-ers like Steve Teale. In fact, I've looked at plenty of (what I assume are) suitable sites and I just don't see this spider.

So why is it so restricted? I have no idea, so I will pull out the records and have a look at the metadata. First off this record is in a natural cave. It was very wet with flowing water, there were perhaps 40 in there that I could see. Lots of mosquitoes and a Herald moth. Mammal droppings too, so plenty to eat. Secondly is the previous record in Sussex which was found in the workshop at Woods Mill by Michael Blencowe, I confirmed it as Meta menardi. It was the first record for West Sussex. The far end of the workshop is a bit musty but mostly quite dry. It's pitch black until you open the door or turn the lights on. No real opening and very little food. We only ever saw one there and I've not noticed it since.

Prior to that there are three  East Sussex records (all bar one are of single female records). Two from the soft-rock sandy cliffs  to the east of Hastings in 2006 (this record is of three females) and 2003 have no metadata so I can't comment on these, so lets assume they are natural caves. The only other record was made, would you believe it, from Beachy Head! This record states that it was "found in a fissure on cliff top". 

So most of the records are from relatively small natural caves with permanent openings. This also tallies with where I have seen them up north. The Woods Mill record is the anomaly. So, maybe it's worth looking at smaller more natural caves than the bat tunnels I have spent more time in (where you are more likely to see a Bloxworth Snout moth than a cave spider!). There is also the scarce Meta bourneti to look out for, that hasn't been recorded in Sussex yet.

3 Response to "Meta data"

Unknown Says:

I remember Richard Price telling me about that Beachy Head record Graeme. I remember him saying that it initially looked like little more than a rabbit hole, but he could see a fissure going down very deep.

Unknown Says:

Also (I'm remembering Meta stories now!) Chris Felton told of a time when he was crossing a field in the Merseyside area and came across an upturned sink or bath in the middle of the field (probably previously used to water livestock) and there were a couple of Meta in there! Not a natural 'cave' for miles! And Nigel Cane-Honeysett found one in his garden Chimenea in Telford, Shropshire! Presumably the youngsters must disperse quite widely. Quite fascinating.

Graeme Lyons Says:

Very interesting, I wonder if it simply boils down to chance if suitable habitat is found. I suppose unlike dung and carrion patch habitats, the spider can't sense a cave from miles away. Maybe it's just chance that suitable habitat is found at all?

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