I watch as two invaders to our shores play a deadly game
It is one of those September afternoons that you always hope for: a bright, warm sun traversing low in a sky of faded blue, adorned with suds of grey-white cloud, and a gusting breeze. A narrow path leads me between stands of bramble to an open area of long grass, and almost at once I see it, low down between the stems. It is hard to miss.
It is enormous, a living artwork of bold ripples of black, white and custard-yellow, with eight zebra-striped legs. A wasp spider, sitting in the centre of its orb web, slowly demolishing what look like the remains of a grasshopper. The dazzling body is perhaps two centimetres long, the legs as much again, which tells me that this is a female approaching her resplendent autumn best (the males are far smaller, and much harder to find – perhaps because the female often eats the male after sex. That’s going out with a bang in every sense). In just a few weeks she will be gone, leaving behind an egg sac the size and shape of a poppy seed head. Her offspring will join their companions in heading northwards, a few miles each year, in a slow but steady invasion of Britain driven in part by our warming climate.
Ten feet away I see another female. She’s alert, as the stems around her web tremble. She shifts slightly, adjusting a leg to better feel the vibrations of her potential prey. It is a Roesel’s bush cricket, a similar size to her, climbing a nearby stem. It, too is a female, clad in black and lime green armour, with huge industrial-looking hind legs and wings too small to fly with. The Roesel’s is another invader making its way North, and as they occupy the same habitat, this game of cat and mouse is played out between them every year.
The cricket seems to sense the danger and halts, before a kick of those hind legs fires it away into the undergrowth. The wasp spider is unmoved. The grass is alive with craneflies, the daddy-long-legs of my childhood, so her next meal will not be long in coming.