By Jennifer Barbour
“Wow,“ I exclaim in a hushed voice as my son and I walk under an enormous spider web. I point to the large female spider holding court in the center of her stately web and hear a long, drawn out “W…O…W” from my son. I gently run my fingers along one of the outer support spindles, marveling at its strength. We were at the Night Heron beach boardwalk, walking through what I like to call the “bamboo forest”. Surely you know the place. It is perhaps one of the best locations on the island to view these spectacular spiders.
As summer wanes, the female Golden Silk spider (Nephila clavipes) reaches maturity. Come fall, their rusty golden bodies will grow to lengths spanning the palm of my hand. The smaller males present in webs from July to September leave the females to complete the task of bringing their offspring into the world. You will notice her hard work if you find the egg cases made to house hundreds of baby spiders. Look for small, tan, paper-like sacs about the size of a nickel and spun with golden silk. I see them most commonly near the female’s web, spun close to vegetation.
The female’s golden silk is where this spider gets its common name. When constructing a web, she can actually adjust this golden pigment to suit her web site, allowing for maximum camouflage. Since their diet consists of a wide variety of flying insects, they position their webs in such a way as to take advantage of insect flight paths. For humans, this advantageous location translates into somewhat of a warning when biking along paths with overhanging trees. It also means these spiders are doing a world of good by feasting on ‘pesky’ insects. Like all spiders, Golden Silk spiders are venomous. However, a bite from one is much less intense than a common bee sting and should therefore not be considered harmful to humans.
Finally, I’d like to share a small note found in my field guide regarding the genus name Nephila. Its roots are Ancient Greek and means “fond of spinning.” I would encourage you to notice these enormous, strong, golden webs. Undoubtedly, you will find that its maker is certainly fond of spinning and fairly meticulous with her web maintenance.
About the Author: Jennifer is a Naturalist with the Kiawah Island Nature Program. To contact her with comments, questions, or personal stories, email her at Jennifer_Barbour@kiawahresort.com.Tweet