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.
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.
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.
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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