Life and death in the garden…

As a small child, exactly when I cannot remember, I realised that in nature there are few peaceful deaths….birds, bees and butterflies do not grow old then lay down to shuffle off their mortal coils in the company of loving friends and family. Everything is a source of sustenance for other organisms from the bacteria and amoebae within our guts up through the branches of the tree of life. Brutal, and unemotional – but that is the way of the natural world it seems.

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The Jersey tiger moth was quickly wrapped with gossamer threads, the spider securing the wings around the moth’s body and rendering it immobile within this shroud.

A few metres behind our house lies a cliff of some 6m height and I often look out there, when standing at the kitchen sink, as birds and butterflies scoot past. This time, my attention was caught by the scarlet flash of the underwings of a Jersey tiger (Euplagia quadripunctaria), a moth that seems to frequent these shady places in late summer. These insects hold a particular fascination for me since I longed to see one as a child – a rarity in the UK, then, but frequent in our part of Italy.

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The female garden spider (Araneus didyma) rapidly rotated her tightly bound prey beneath her feet, securing it with more threads.

I went out to look and saw it settle a few times and then flit away… only to come to rest (permanently s it turned out) with a jolt. It had encountered one of the almost invisible threads of a web, spun by a large (by European standards at least) and colourful female garden spider (Araneus didyma). The web’s occupant moved swiftly to secure her prey and so did I to pick up a camera. However, in the 20 secs I was away from the scene, the Jersey tiger’s body had been wrapped using its wings as a shroud and the whole package secured with gossamer threads.

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Spider and shroud swung together in the strong breeze funnelled at the rear of the house between wall and cliff. I waited my moment using a Sigma 150mm f/2.8 lens on a tripod…estimating the centre of each pendulum swing and allowing a tiny bit for shutter lag and my reactions.

The spider, was suspended from its own lifeline, the hapless insect from another and the spider rotated the ‘shroud’ beneath its legs, rapidly laying down its gossamer threads. I watched with a sense of grim fascination at this event where beauty and brutality were rolled into one.

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Spider and tiger moth might be similar in size but the contest, such as it was, can only be described as one-sided from the outset.

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