February 2022

The golden orb-web spider

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The golden orb-web spider

It’s the time of year where, if you're not careful, and have taken a few roads less travelled, that by the end of drive your tracker may look like a silk entombed mummy! It is incredible to see how many of these beautiful, strong, golden-coloured webs there are at the moment. These belong to Nephila senegalensis, commonly known as the banded-legged golden orb-web spider.

It gets this name because of the beautiful colour of its silk, which is believed to have a dual purpose of attracting prey like bees in the sunlight, and to form a camouflage in dense foliage. The base strands are famous for being incredibly strong, and I have heard comparisons made of it to materials like kevlar (that bulletproof vests are made of) which gives you a small idea of how strong this striking web is. I can personally attest to seeing small birds caught in the webs many times.

One of the things that I find most interesting is what the spiders do to try and preserve the life of these webs. It is obviously very strong but to make it this strong takes a lot of energy from a small creature.
So, what they do is create a visual marker for large animals not to destroy the web, and I have seen mammals like kudu and impala notice the webs and walk around them.

Although it may look quite intimidating, this spider is non-aggressive and relatively harmless. It can deliver a painful neurotoxin bite but you would have had to severely provoke it to get to that point.

It is definitely something to look out for on your next safari, especially if you are here in the summer months.

Nick du Plessis
By Nick du Plessis
Field Guide