Little friend in a golden web

April/
May
2012

I’ll admit, spiders are not my favourite creatures. I don’t hate them though, I mean if there’s a cockroach in close proximity I’ll run away screaming until someone else has dealt with it…but with spiders, I just try to give them their space and leave them alone. At the beginning of April my brother found an amazing gold web in our garden, constructed and inhabited by one of the most interesting spiders we’d ever seen.

We learned she was a Golden Orb Weaver, and were so taken by her that we gave her a name – Goldie.

Golden Orb Weaver  Golden Orb Weaver web  Golden Orb Weaver

Naturally we turned to the internet for more info on our new garden guest – turns out there are loads of different Orb Weavers out there, some that grow so big they eat birds. Luckily we didn’t have one of those – Goldie was a harmless black-legged golden-web spider, or Nephila pilipes fenestrata to get technical. The name ‘Nephila’ is derived from Greek and means ‘fond of spinning’ – I don’t care your attitude towards spiders but you have to admit, that’s a very sweet name, even for the terrifyingly huge ones.

We watched her for the month; for the most part she didn’t move from her spot in the middle of her web, (aparently this is a Nephila trait: their impressive webs are constructed with a circular hole underwhich they sit inverted) and a magnificent web it was – incredibly intricate, strong (tugging lightly at the support strands, which looked made up of many silken threads, did little more than bounce the web a bit) and truly golden in colour, especially in the evening light.

Golden Orb Weaver  Golden Orb Weaver

Sometimes, her web was littered with the macabre remains of previous meals…I watched her eat once – it was a little grizzly, but fascinating. She was fiddling with a mummified fly, dropping it every now and then reeling it back in again. Delicate, but deadly.

About two weeks ago we had a lot of rain. I thought about Goldie outside; we hadn’t checked on her in a while and wondered if she was okay. At the end of a solid period of rain I finally went to look for her. She was gone. Her web had taken a bit of a beating from the rain but still stood proudly.

We hoped she would come back, but so far she hasn’t. Reading about Golden Orb Weavers revealed that they usually live for about a year but die in the cold. They have been known to abandon webs too though that seems unlikey in this case…

Her abdomen had grown during the short time we’d known her so it’s possible she laid some eggs somewhere. I admit the thought of hundreds of spiderlings isn’t uncreepy, but I’d be glad to have more little Orb Weavers around – unassuming little Goldie is already missed.

- – -

More info on Golden Orb Weavers:

General wiki article  |  South African-specific:  SA spider club  |  biodiversityexplorer.org
Epic David Attenborough-narrated BBC video over here

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7 Responses to Little friend in a golden web

  1. mike says:

    hi

    we have plenty of them in our yard and i have one that is about a year old and she is still going strong even though she is missing one leg. i have noticed a rise in numbers here in cape town and i have learnt alot about them . it is nice to see some people enjoy them unlike my neighbours who i suspect killed one . they do a huge favour for those who have allergies to bee stings as our ones eat bees and wasps and they are very social spiders and have no temper which means they dont attack without out good reason as with all my orb weavers. they also have the best web design and the engineering behind the web stands out in high wind as i have seen ,that spider must have been dizzy or sea sick lol.

    mike

    • laura says:

      Hi Mike

      Seems like this is the time of year for them – I’ve seen a few appearing in friends’ gardens but unfortunately none in ours…yet.

      I’m glad to hear they live as long as a year (and over) and that you’re a fan of them too!

  2. Ted Matthews says:

    I have 4 nests of them all over the garden with lots of smal baby spiders

  3. Trevor says:

    Have found this spider in my garden in Wynberg Cape Town. I was not sure what it was but now that I have seen the picture I know that it is a golden orb weaver. I catch moths and flies and throw it onto the web. It amazes me at the speed that it gets to the prey. I would like to know how venimous it is. Would someone like to adopt my pet

  4. Mike says:

    I first saw these guys on my aunts farm up north, but there has been a sudden influx of them around the Cape. We have an army of them setting up a fortress of webs between my garage and my neighbours. We love them as they’re sorting out the fly problems. Pretty little spiders too!

    We had a massive web, proudly displayed over our front gate. Although I suspect a Guinee fowl collided with it as they’re frequently hopping over the fence where the web once stood. Sad about that….half expected to find the fowl stuck in the web!

  5. Sauge McLaughlin says:

    Nice to see that others have them in their gardens and also get enjoyment out of them. We had two big ones suddenly appear in our garden about 2 months ago. One of them went AWOL for a couple of days, and we worried about her (all of the big ones you will see will be females, the males are tiny), but then she popped up in another part of the garden with a new spectacular web, that when it catches the sun, looks like it has been spun from pure gold. I go to look at them both every day, and have observed a couple of additional tiny spiders hanging out on their webs, probably the males.

    It seems that these spiders are popping up all over Cape Town. We have a friend who counted 40 in their garden, and one has just appeared at our Cricket Club that caused a bit of a stir as no one had seen a spider like that before

    In case anyone is wondering, all spiders are venomous to some degree (they need to immobilise their prey, and use venom to do so), but very few in the world are poisonous to humans. Unless you are allergic to their bite (just as some people are allergic to bee stings), very few will cause you harm. Neither are many aggressive, and would rather escape than stay and bite you. As a general rule of thumb, if a creature is poisonous, it will usually be coloured with red or yellow and black (such as bees and black widow spiders for example) this is natures way of advertising how poisonous a creature is.

    There seems to be a myth that there is a very poisonous spider native to South Africa, that would “kill you if it could bite you, but it can’t as it is too small”. My view is that no spider is too small to bite you. If it can penetrate the hard exoskeleton of an insect, then it should have no trouble penetrating our soft skin. I just think that it just doesn’t want to bite people.

    I used to keep tarantulas a few years back and ended up learning a lot about them and spiders in general. I actually used to be scared of spiders, but then I got stuck with some tiny baby tarantulas that a friend had abandoned (long story), and not wishing them to die (I never killed spiders, even though I was scared of them), looked after them until full grown. I then pretty much lost my fear of spiders and gained a great respect for these wonderful creatures.

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