A large colourful female wasp spider found yesterday by Ian Bushell in the set-aside at the top of Kestrel Field.
Wasp spiders (Argiope bruennichi) arrived in England from the continent in the early part of the last century. They were first discovered here in 1922, on the south coast, where the climate was just warm enough for them to survive.
 in her web among the grass;  her underbelly seen through her web.
Since the 1970s, when our climate began to warm, they have spread very slowly northward. During the summer of 2006, research was carried out that found wasp spiders as far north as Cambridgeshire, a discovery that the Daily Mail, in 2007, headlined as: Exotic wasp spider that bites swarming across England.
Here in the park we appear to be on the advancing edge of that spread; we will report our find to the Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Record Centre and find out how many other sightings, if any, there have been in the vicinity. The Essex Field Club’s map (below) suggests that it might not be many.
Wasp spiders live and build their large orb webs among medium height grass, and grasshoppers and crickets form a large part of their diet. The Kestrel Field set-aside is sheltered, faces south and is full of grasshoppers and crickets this year, ideal habitat for this species.
 Distribution map by Essex Field Club,  spiders by Gregoire Dubois (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) flickr
The male spider is much smaller than the female and for him mating is a perilous business. Once his packet of sperm is safely delivered, he is, in evolutionary terms, surplus to requirements and the female recycles him by eating him. His protein will help her build better babies.
This female represents a new species for the park. We very much hope that she is one of a breeding population and that there is a silken egg sac somewhere in the grass nearby.
Pictures taken in the park by Suzanne Humphries unless otherwise accredited
More about the park’s arachnids: