Friday, March 26, 2010

Come into my parlour...

At this time of year, I don't envy flying insects.
In truth, I don't envy them anytime, but now, at the end of the wet season, their lot is particularly grim. The bush is brimming with orb-web spiders.
Tier upon tier of vast, disc-like webs tremble between every tree and bush. Each web spans about 1.5 m and shimmers golden when viewed from the side. A stroll through my study site leaves me feeling like Frodo in the tunnel of Torech Ungol.
The most common species is the massive golden orb-web spider, Nephila senegalensis. The females are daunting, with a body 25-30mm long (add legs and they're larger than my spread hand). They weave a web so strong it ensnares small birds (I released a struggling blue waxbill recently). Fortunately, they're harmless to humans and flee rapidly when their web is blunderingly destroyed, so the pitter-patter of scuttling feet on one's face lasts only a second or two.

Golden orb-web spider, Nephila senegalensis.

The golden orb-web spider is named for the colour of its silk. This is the patch of silk at the centre of the web.

An altogether more clinging species, is the black and yellow garden orb-web spider (catchy name, huh). It is also very large (25mm body) but is a bit less common.

 Black and yellow garden orb-web spider, Argiope australis.

You can see the zig-zags of white silk (called stabilimenta) that span its web, forming a cross at the centre where the spider hangs. The function of stabilimenta is still hotly debated, but these decorations may camouflage the spider, breaking up its outline, attract insects by imitating the ultraviolet runways of flower petals, or warn blundering vertebrates of the presence of a web.

From my point of view, the little (8 mm) yellow and black kite spider
is relatively inoffensive because it usually strings its web a couple of metres above the ground.

Yellow and black kite spider, Gasteracantha versicolor.


  1. We have so many yellow and black kite spiders here in the Reserve!Do you like spiders?

  2. Kristen,
    I'm not particularly keen on spiders. I find it upsetting that they drown so easily, whenever I'm trying to rescue one from the shower, bath, sink, etc.

  3. My dad loves to rescue spiders from the house!

  4. I saw a kite spider today here in GA. For the first time I freaked.out to me it looks like half crab still trying to figure out if its poisonous towards kids or people

  5. Laura,
    You can just enjoy these weird little guys as they are harmless to humans. There's a species here that looks exactly like a little tiny rectangular biscuit!

    1. Thank you because I have kids and everyone was telling f me they was poisonous


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