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Biology

The garden spider spins a large complex orb-web, which measures up to 40 cm in diameter and is used to capture insect prey (1). Individuals spend much of their time at the centre of their web, and detect vibrations in the silk through their legs when insects become trapped. This spider wraps prey items in silk before consuming them (3). When this species is threatened, it rapidly shakes itself and the web up and down, and may drop to the ground on a silk thread (1). The web may be rebuilt every day, and the old web is consumed so that the proteins used in its construction are conserved and re-used (3). Males approach females with caution in order to avoid being eaten. During copulation, males embrace the female's abdomen; sperm is transferred by the insertion of one of the male's palps. The male departs after mating, and the female spends a number of days inside her retreat. She then begins to spin an egg sac or 'cocoon', which protects the eggs. She stays close to the cocoon for a number of days before dying (3). The young spiders emerge from the cocoon in spring (3); they gather into dense groups until after their first moult (1), after which they disperse by 'ballooning', a form of dispersal in which the spiderlings are carried on the wind by a thread of silk (3). The word 'spider' derives from the Old English word 'spithra' and is related to the German 'spinne', both of which mean 'spinner' (8). Spider webs have been used to heal wounds and to staunch blood flow for many years (7).

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