Nature Stuff

Golden Orb Weaver Spiders

At first glance, it seems like someone was being clumsy when they named a silver spider the Golden Orb Weaver. But that bit about the gold wasn’t refering to the spider. It was refering to the orb.

Golden Orb Weaver

A male Nephila plumipes (formerly known as Nephila ornata) in the top of this image is dwarfed by the female. Notice that the male is offered a small amount of protection by being on the opposite side of the web.

Golden Orb Weaver silk

Seen from the side, the web shows the distinctive golden colour that gives the spiders their name as the weavers of golden orbs.

Nephila plumipes and egg sac Part of a cluster of Nephila plumipes spiders

1: A female Nephila plumipes with her egg sac. The egg secs do a great job at showing of the golden colour of the silk.  2: Nephila plumipes will often form clusters of webs with others of the same species.

With some types of spiders there’s a difference in size between the males and females. Nephila plumipes has taken this idea almost to the point of a joke. The picture at the top of this page shows you what I mean. That big thing filling the picture is the female. The male is at the top of the photo and he’s so small you’d almost think those two spiders were from different species.

Often around the end of summer or autumn, these spiders will often form themselves and their webs into large clusters, usually high up but sometimes at our face-level. If you do walk into one of their webs you’ll be pleased to know that these are not considered to be dangerous to people.

A mature female Golden Orb Weaver is a big spider. These spiders also have very strong silk. They hang around in the centres of their webs and you’ll often see the dried-up husks of prey hanging in neat rows like a bunch of trophies. As you’d expect from a Golden Orb Weaver, their egg sacs are a beautiful golden yellow.

Other Golden Orb Weavers

large Nephila spider

There are other spiders in this group of Nephila spiders and it’s pretty safe to call them Golden Orb Weavers.

In northern Australia some of them can get very big, often reaching the size of an adult person’s hand. Which reminds me of a friend of mine who was working as a drover in Queensland. He accidentally rode his horse through one of their webs and one of those hand-sized spiders fell down the front of his shirt. He assures me he managed a very fast dismount. I will stress that he wasn’t in any danger, but you still can’t blame the guy for wanting to part ways with his new passenger.

Living throughout the tropical north of Australia, these handsome spiders make very big — and strong — orb webs. Their web is so strong that some indigenous people have found some clever uses for them. For example, they might swing a stick through their webs, tangling up the spiders and their webs, and use those spidery tangles to lure and trap fish.

These spiders eat insects that get caught in the web, but they have a reputation for eating birds too. With a web so big (over a metre across) and strong it’s not surprising that it could happen. These spiders have been seen feeding on the birds, but I stress that birds are not their usual diet.

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