| Down among the grass stems, a ball of recently hatched orb-web spiderlings|
|This stretch of the river Wear, downstream to Harperley Banks, is known locally as the Fly – although these days I seldom see fly fishermen casting on to the crystal-clear current. But, with its shallow pools and rank vegetation, the sheltered, sunlit riverbank is a paradise for entomologists. Today we found bewildering variety: stoneflies scuttling over pebbles on the water's edge; mayflies fluttering within a trout's leap of the river; smoky winged alderflies in the overhanging trees; and scorpion flies that seem dangerous but are harmless. These last are feeble fliers whose males' curled tails look like they might inflict pain but are nothing more than elaborate genitalia. The most menacing insects were the horseflies, whose silent flight and stiletto tongues give no warning until a trickle of blood heralds a week of irritation.|
This is also a hunting ground for spiders, whose webs are seldom empty. Stretched across an elm leaf we found the snare of Araneus cucurbitinus, a cucumber-green web weaver with an uncanny resemblance to a flower bud. Crab spiders lurked in hogweed umbels, front legs wide, waiting for unsuspecting flies to land. Then, down among the grass stems, a ball of orb-web spiderlings, recently hatched from a cocoon that protected them through the harsh winter.
The spiderball, the size of a large pea, exploded when I poked it with a grass stem, and scores of spiderlings raced away along suspending threads, like sailors climbing a ship's rigging. When we passed by again, an hour later, they had coalesced back into their mutually defensive huddle. Soon they will disperse to weave their webs, supplied by the Fly with unlimited prey, until summer is over and it is time to produce their own winter egg cocoons.