Male and female golden orb-weaver spiders
At least I didn’t have to apologise to this male – I was very careful not to make contact with the web.
A few years ago I was tying to get a photo of male and female together and inadvertently bumber the web slightly with my shoulder. This alerted the female, and as she turned to find what had landed in her net she saw the mamle – and immediately started eating him. So yes, I did actually apologise to him while I was taking a photo.
I have on other occasions watched the makes – which are always much smaller than the female, cautiously approaching her from behind, apparently with the hope of jumping on board and starting to mate at some moment when she is not likely to notice what is about to happen. I certainly saw the reason for their apprehension that day.
I was able to leave this pair with both spiders still alive and in the position they occupied when I first saw them – the condition I like to leave any animal we see on tour (except flying foxes, as then we are generally sitting and waiting at dusk for them to start flying out of their roosting trees – but without any prompting from us).
This is one of our biggest spiders. The largest one I ever encountered was on Mount French (near Boonah, Scenic Rim, southeast Queensland) – from the tip of her forefeet to the tip of her hind foot she measured 23 centimetres. We have some big ones at home as well, but I’ve never seen one quite that big here. The pair in the photo were at Eaglby Wetlands, on the edge of Greater Brisbane’s suburbs. The largest fossil spider ever found was also that of a golden orb-weaver unearthed in China.
They are big, but not dangerous – well, not to humans, that is. They really don’t want to waste their venom on something they can’t eat, and will run away rather than attack – you’d really have to try rather hard to get bitten, and if you do you will probably feel nothing worse than the initial pain of the bite, and possibly a headache, slight dizziness and nausea.
I was at surprised to see golden orb-weavers when traveling in Kruger National Park, South Africa, a couple of years ago, looking very much like the ones we see here at home, but the group does occur in many warm countries of the world.
You won’t often see them in winter, but when spring comes you will start seeing their webs stretched out between trees, sometimes across pathways or narrow roads, and as summer comes on and blends into autumn you will see the females getting bigger and bigger as they swell with the eggs (which they will bury in the soil.
The ‘gold’ of the web is hinted at in the photo, but it is most obvious in the thicker strands they spin for support between trees, and best seen if you find the right angle for the sunlight to reflect from it. There are other orb-weavers that do not have the yellow pigment in the web. Why is it yellow? Maybe to attract insects, maybe to stop birds from blundering in and destroying the web (although these spiders have been known to occasionally eat small birds that have done so).