Animals Image Credit: Spider And Dragonfly via Flickr CC

Published on June 14th, 2013 | by James Ayre


Banana Spider — Golden Silk Orb-Weaver Facts, Pictures, Bite Effects, Etc

The banana spider — Nephila clavipes — is a large, brightly colored species of spider native to the warmer regions of the Americas. The spider is often recognized by its large webs — which often feature zigzag patterns — and its distinctive coloring. It is most commonly found in swampy regions and near the coasts, and is also known by its common name — the golden silk orb weaver spider. In general though, all of the spiders of the genus Nephilia are known as banana spiders, not just Nephila clavipes.

Image Credit: Nephila Clavipes via Wikimedia Commons

Image Credit: Nephila Clavipes via Wikimedia Commons

And while in the region that I live in “banana spiders” are all from the genus Nephilia, the name “banana spider” actually refers to a number of different types of spider, depending on the region: the golden silk orb weaver, a type of spider native to the Western Pacific known as Argiope appensa, and also the Brazilian wandering spider. This article will be focused solely on the golden silk orb-weaver though.

The spiders of the Nephila genus can vary very significantly in color depending on the species — from rust-red type colors, to yellowish greens, to white. “Like many species of the superfamily Araneoidea, they have striped legs specialized for weaving (where their tips point inward, rather than outward as is the case with many wandering spiders). Their contrast of dark brown/black and green/yellow allows warning and repelling of potential predators to whom their venom might be of little danger.”

Image Credit: Banana Spider Web via Flickr CC

Image Credit: Banana Spider Web via Flickr CC

Female golden silk orb-weavers typically grow to sizes of about (body size, not including legspan) 1.5 – 2 inches. When legs are included, they regularly span more than half a foot. Males are usually around 2/3 smaller than the females. The biggest specimen ever reported on was a 2.7 inch (body size, not including legs) female — though it’s now debated whether that individual may have been from a previously unrecognized subspecies.

That individual was apparently big enough to catch, kill, and feed on a finch — a type of small bird. Perhaps more impressively though, “in 2012 a large individual was photographed killing and consuming a half-meter-long brown tree snake in Freshwater, Queensland.”

“The webs of most Nephila spiders are complex, with a fine-meshed orb suspended in a maze of non-sticky barrier webs. As with many weavers of sticky spirals, the orb is renewed regularly if not daily, apparently because the stickiness of the orb declines with age. When weather is good (and no rain has damaged the orb web), subadult and adult Nephila often rebuild only a portion of the web. The spider will remove and consume the portion to be replaced, build new radial elements, then spin the new spirals,” as Wikipedia notes.

“The circular-orb portion of a mature N. clavipes web can be more than 1 meter across, with support strands extending perhaps many more feet away. In relation to the ground, the webs of adults may be woven anywhere from eye-level upwards high into the tree canopy. The orb web is usually truncated by a top horizontal support strand, giving it an incomplete look.”

With regards to the bite of the animal — it is potent, but it’s nowhere near deadly for humans. The type of poison is similar to that used by black widows, but much less powerful. What you can typically expect from a bite is some redness, discomfort, blisters, and possible swelling — this should all pass within a day or two though. Of course there are those that may possess allergies to the venom, in which case it could be much more dangerous.

Image Credit: Spider And Dragonfly via Flickr CC

Image Credit: Spider And Dragonfly via Flickr CC

Now on to the most interesting facts:

- The Nephila genus of spiders is the oldest surviving spider genus in the world. The oldest known species from that genus lived at least 165 million years ago, and was remarkably similar looking to several species still alive today.

- “The genus name Nephila is derived from Ancient Greek, it means ‘fond of spinning’, from the words (nen) = to spin (related to nema νήμα ‘thread’) + φίλος (philos) = ‘love’.”

- The oldest known species in the Nephila genus — N. jurassica — had a leg-span of half a foot, that makes it the largest fossilized spider yet discovered. The species in question is the one mentioned above, the one that lived about 165 million year old.

- The Australian golden silk orb weaver — Nephila edulis — has often been observed dismantling the lower portion of its web on windy days so as to allow the strong winds to flow through the newly created large opening in the web without breaking it.

- Their presence in gardens can be beneficial — greatly limiting the presence of fruit flies.

- “The silk of N. clavipes has recently been used to help in mammalian neuronal regeneration. In vitro experiments showed that a single thread of silk can lead a severed neuron through the body to the site from which it was severed. With a tensile strength of 4×109 N/m2, it exceeds that of steel by a factor of six. It is not recognized by the immune system.”

- “Fishermen on coasts of the indopacific ocean remove Nephila webs and form them into a ball, which is thrown into the water. There it unfolds and is used to catch bait fish.”

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • Daburg

    Found one of these buggers about two months ago along the awning of the house, (south Georgia) she was huge! I had never seen one of these before, nor did my kids, we took so many pictures of her, and we went out to check on her, and she had died. At least we got to experience and watch her spin her web daily.

  • Wayne White

    I live in north central Florida where these spiders are very common and I can tell you first hand that they are very beautiful close up and very beneficial, as far as preying on a variety of flying pests! I have seen some large specimens as big as 4 inches with leg span included! These type of spiders, along with our native Argiopes, are the largest spiders besides Tarantulas that I have ever encountered. I have never had any problems with these spiders, ever!

  • Lorie

    I think I found one in a bush beside my house. I live in Pennsylvania so can they live in this climate?

    • Stephanie

      no- and it wouldn’t be in a bush. They like to build their webs across wide spaces and hang out right in the middle of their web. I live in Florida and they are everywhere. We don’t pay them much attention.

  • misses

    There’s one in a tree outside my house. I now realize I have to kill it. thanks Google

    • Zachary Shahan

      Why do you come to that conclusion?

      This line seems to show it’s not much of a threat to humans: “With regards to the bite of the animal — it is potent, but it’s nowhere near deadly for humans…. What you can typically expect from a bite is some redness, discomfort, blisters, and possible swelling — this should all pass within a day or two though.”

    • BienchenH-21

      Please don’t kill her!I have an absolutely beautiful one in my garden, her beauty is astonishing and she is so interesting to watch. Respect her! Don’t kill her…she will absolutely in no way shape or form hurt you.

    • Wayne White

      Why kill it? It’s in a tree outside your house not bothering you! It’s one of God’s creatures; please don’t kill it just because you can! TY

      • Cirrus

        you had better not kill her…

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