5. Coelopidae – arachnophobia

15th February 2019 – The Year of the Fly

Araneus quadratus lurking on a fence post

There is something about spiders that gives me the creeps – a fear that long predates my years in Australia where spiders are genuinely something to worry about. I am happy with all manner of flies (obviously), even those that bite, like clegs, or have long dangly legs, like crane flies, or that feed on dead animals, like blow flies and flesh flies. But an innocuous spider making its way across the kitchen floor is, if not exactly a terror, certainly a beast that I don’t want to have anything to do with. I now have things sufficiently under control that I can release inch-long monsters from the bath or photograph a monster lurking with evil intent on a fence post.

Another step along the road towards my finding a more adult accommodation with arachnids occurred today when I confronted and robbed a wolf spider of its prey. Tiny it might have been, but it was doing its best to frighten me off with its black and white stripes and menacing stance. I was having difficulty catching flies on rotting seaweed without a net, so when I spotted this terror lurking nearby on a rock with a fly in its fangs, I only hesitated for a moment. Gingerly poking a glass vial under its nose I managed to irritate it enough that it dropped its prey, not into my vial as intended, but on to the sand below. After a few minutes of humiliating myopic searching I eventually spotted the inert fly and potted it and sprinted away in case retribution might follow.

This was another ugly fly, drab, dark, flattened and bristly with tatty wings. But satisfyingly, it was from a different family from the one I had managed to catch myself (4. Sepsidae – suum cuique). This time it was a Coelopidae – commonly known as kelp flies – a single-minded family that has specialised in living on washed-up seaweed and in fact was the target I had in mind when I hunkered down to the rotting wrack. Success – thanks to the more adept, and now hungry, and possibly dangerous, spider.

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