A golden orb

Grumeti | March 2020

The golden orb spiders fall within the genus Nephila which originates from Greek meaning “fond of spinning” and this they truly are!

During the summer rains you will see the golden webs in the bushes and trees all over the grasslands of the Grumeti Reserve. These golden webs are incredibly impressive and so is the spider that sits in the middle. The banded-legged golden orb (Nephila senegalensis), on average, will reach the size of a beer mat and may prey on numerous insects that are trapped in her sticky web.

Spiders are incredibly important to the ecosystem as they are one of the greatest consumers of insects and thus regulate insect populations.

The yellow webs shining gold in the sunlight are remarkable. One of the reasons for this is the composition of the proteins of which the web is formed. Carotenoids are the main contributors to this yellow colour. These are essentially yellow organic pigments which can also be found in various plants and vegetables such as corn, butternut and crotalaria flowers.

The vibrant yellow/golden colour of the silk strands in sunlight may appeal to insects, drawing them in to the web. In low level light or shaded areas, the colour may allow the web camouflage and reduce the possibility of the spider being predated on by various spider hunting wasps.

Amazingly, through history, there have been several incidents recorded of the golden silk being collected to make garments of clothing!

Fisherman have been known to collect the silk of large webs which are modified into intricate shapes and then thrown into the water to catch small fish species.

Spiders as a whole, are incredibly well specialized creatures as well as absolutely fascinating. The silk webs are said to be, pound for pound, mechanically stronger than steel! The human race has for many years invested a lot of time and effort to replicate this very special material but thus far have been unsuccessful.

There are close to 8 000 species of spider that have been recorded on the continent of Africa all of which have adapted different mechanisms in order to survive under varying conditions. Next time you are out and about in nature, cast an eye over you friendly neighbourhood spiders, and see how unique each and all really are.