Other Common Names
Golden Orb Weaver
Golden Orb-Weaving Spider
Golden Silk Spider
This is the only Nephila species known in the Western Hemisphere. Other Nephila species are found in the south Pacific, SE Asia, Madagascar and Australia.
Females to 50 mm; males to 8 mm.
Female has a long cylindrical body, up to about 50mm or 2" by the end of the season, yellow to brownish-orange abdomen with silvery spots and silvery cephalothorax. Three of its four pairs of legs have hairy black patches above the joints. The male is much smaller (5-8 mm) (see below - the male is at the top of the image).
The silk of the web usually has a golden color which is visible to the naked eye.
Predominantly southeastern US. Florida, Gulf States, north to North Carolina, south to Central and South America as far as Argentina.
The female builds a large orbweb which can span several feet, most often seen (or walked into by unsuspecting hikers) 2 to 8 feet from the ground, but can be much higher (at least one has been known to spin her web at the top corner of a structure 65 feet from the ground, they are also reported to spin at the top of utility poles). Beside the main web may be one or more barrier webs which protect her from predators. One or more small males may be found sitting in the female's web.
The web is a semipermanent structure which is repaired as necessary, not entirely destroyed and rebuilt daily, as is the case with some other orbweavers.
Most noticeable in late summer and into fall, when mature females can be detected from a long distance.
Small flying insects - flies, beetles, moths etc. - are caught in the web. The spider incapacitates them by biting. Wrapped prey is brought back to the hub of the web, which is usually off-center in the structure. This central storage of food may be a strategy to reduce theft by the kleptoparasitic Argyrodes (see remarks, below).
Eggs are laid in masses in fall on the side of a structure or tree close to where the female has her web. Usually at least two large eggsacs 25 to 30mm in diameter, containing several hundred eggs.
Like other spiders, this one will bite in self-defense, especially if you go out of your way to provoke it (in particular, by handling or picking it up). Spiders have venom which enables them to incapacitate their prey. However, the bite of most species is described as much less severe than a bee sting.
As it lives in hot places, Nephila has evolved some defenses against the sun. The long cylindrical abdomen of the spider may be angled towards the sun to reduce the amount of exposed body surface and thus prevent overheating. The reflective silvery surface of much of the body serves the same purpose.
The gold dragline silk of this spider's web has attracted interest for its amazing tensile strength. Scientists have analyzed its content and attempted to reproduce its proteins artificially for use in high-strength fabrics. See article in Science News Magazine, March 1996 (online access requires subscription)
A small silvery spider, Argyrodes nephilae, is known for its "kleptoparasitism" in the Golden Silk Spider's web. It will live in the frame edges or barrier webs, and occasionally move in to cut loose wrapped bundles of prey. The prey swings loose hanging from a thread which the Argyrodes has previously spun and attached to the bundle, thus ending up in the outer web where the thief can eat it at leisure.
, the kleptoparasite that takes advantage of prey captured by this and other spiders.
Florida's Fabulous Spiders (1)
Natasha, the Golden Silk Spider
- Frank Starmer's account of a female Nephila, includes web-weaving and other illustrative videos