Golden orb spider (Nephila edulis)

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Golden orb spider on web waiting for prey

Top facts

  • The golden orb spider is named for the golden web that the female builds.
  • Male golden orb spiders are much smaller than the females, and can be attacked and eaten by the female during mating attempts.
  • Female golden orb spiders incorporate rotting organic matter into their webs to attract prey items such as blowflies.
  • Although female golden orb spiders only produce one egg sac during the breeding season, this contains an average of 383 eggs.
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Golden orb spider fact file

Golden orb spider description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassArachnida
OrderAraneae
FamilyNephilidae
GenusNephila (1)

A large, web-spinning species (2), the golden orb spider (Nephila edulis) belongs to a group of arachnids known as the Araneomorphae, or ‘true spiders’. These spiders have fangs that close from the side, much like pincers, and enable them to bite with force (3).

Although there is no specific information available on the colouration of the golden orb spider, species within the Nephila genus are known to vary from whitish to black. Like some other Nephila species, the golden orb spider is not thought to have any obvious patterning on its back (4).

All Nephila species show extreme sexual dimorphism in terms of size (5) (6) (7). Female golden orb spiders are much larger than males (8), with mature males usually weighing less than 80 percent of the weight of a mature virgin female (9). Female golden orb spiders also differ from the males in having a small protuberance or bump on the sternum, which is the structure that covers the underside of the body (4).

Also known as
golden orb weaver, golden orb weaver spider, golden silk orb-weaver, golden silk spider.
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Golden orb spider biology

The golden orb spider is named for the strong, golden web that the female builds (2). This web is generally semi-permanent (9) (10), and is usually suspended between trees (2), with each web playing host to a single female and multiple males (9).

Like some other orb-weaving spiders, the golden orb spider uses odour to attract its prey (11). It incorporates rotting, dead organic matter into its web, and waits for blowflies and other prey to be attracted to it and become ensnared (10) (11). The golden orb spider can then either eat its victim straight away, or wrap the insect prey up in silk and cache it for times when prey availability is limited (10).

Breeding in the golden orb spider usually takes place in the autumn, from February to May (7). The mating system of this species is a polygamous one, with several males mating with a single female (6). As in other species within the Nephila genus, male golden orb spiders interact aggressively with one another, with larger individuals preventing smaller rivals from accessing the female (9). Mating, which takes place in the central hub of the web (9), is a dangerous affair for the male spider for yet another reason, as it is at risk from attack and potential cannibalism by the female (7) (9) (12). However, the male’s alertness and agility are usually enough to save him from becoming the female’s victim (12).

The start of courtship is triggered by an insect becoming trapped in the female’s web. Male golden orb spiders attempt to mate while the female is preoccupied with prey, to avoid being eaten themselves. If the female golden orb spider caches the prey rather than eating it immediately, the male will retreat and wait until the female is ready to eat. However, should the female start feeding on its victim at once, the male will approach with extreme caution, and will often use its legs to pluck at the web to test how interested the female is in her meal. If the female golden orb spider ignores the male and carries on eating, the male crawls onto the female’s back to mate (12).

The eggs of the golden orb spider are large and yolky (2), and the female produces one egg sac, containing an average of 383 eggs (7). The juveniles hatch directly from within their case of yellow silk (2) (7). Golden orb spiders have an annual life cycle, which means that the adults die after they have mated and laid eggs (2).

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Golden orb spider range

The golden orb spider is found in eastern Australia, from Victoria to Queensland (9).

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Golden orb spider habitat

An inhabitant of drier woodlands (9), the golden orb spider can often be found in sclerophyll forests (2).

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Golden orb spider status

The golden orb spider has yet to be classified on the IUCN Red List.

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Golden orb spider threats

There are no known major threats to the golden orb spider at present, although Pyroderces terminella caterpillars have been found infesting the egg sacs of this species (13) (14) and feeding on the eggs themselves (14).

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Golden orb spider conservation

There are currently no known conservation measures in place for the golden orb spider.

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Find out more

Learn more about Australian spiders:

Find out more about wildlife conservation in Australia:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Arachnid
A member of a group of invertebrates which includes spiders, harvestmen, scorpions, ticks and mites. Arachnids are characterised by having eight legs, but lack antennae or wings.
Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Polygamous
Mating with more than one partner in the same season.
Sclerophyll
A type of vegetation with hard, thick-skinned leaves; for example, eucalypts and acacias.
Sexual dimorphism
When males and females of the same species differ in appearance.
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References

  1. Species 2000 and ITIS Catalogue of Life (December, 2012)
    http://www.catalogueoflife.org/
  2. Anderson, D.T. (1996) Atlas of Invertebrate Anatomy. NewSouth Publishing, Sydney, Australia.
  3. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia Set. Marshall Cavendish, Singapore.
  4. Kuntner, M., Coddington, J.A. and Hormiga, G. (2008) Phylogeny of extant nephilid orb-weaving spiders (Araneae, Nephilidae): testing morphological and ethological homologies. Cladistics, 24: 147-217.
  5. Kappeler, P. (2010) Animal Behaviour: Evolution and Mechanisms. Springer, Berlin.
  6. Schneider, J.M., Herberstein, M.E., De Crespigny, F.C., Ramamurthy, S. and Elgar, M.A. (2000) Sperm competition and small size advantage for males of the golden orb-web spider Nephila edulis. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 13: 939-946.
  7. Austin, A.D. and Anderson, D.T. (1978) Reproduction and development of the spider Nephila edulis (Koch) (Araneidae: Araneae). Australian Journal of Zoology, 26(3): 501-518.
  8. Uhl, G. and Vollrath, F. (2000) Extreme body size variability in the golden silk spider (Nephila edulis) does not extend to genitalia. Journal of Zoology, London, 251: 7-14.
  9. Elgar, M.A. and Jones, T.M (2008) Size-dependent mating strategies and the risk of cannibalism. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 98: 355-363.
  10. Grime, J.P. and Pierce, S. (2012) The Evolutionary Strategies that Shape Ecosystems. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey.
  11. Moore, R.C., Vodopich, D.S. and Cotner, S.H. (2011) Arguing for Evolution: An Encyclopedia for Understanding Science. ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, California.
  12. Preston-Mafham, R. and Preston-Mafham, K. (1993) The Encyclopedia of Land Invertebrate Behaviour. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  13. Robinson, W.H. (2005) Urban Insects and Arachnids: A Handbook of Urban Entomology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
  14. Common, I.F.B. (1990) Moths of Australia. BRILL, Leiden, The Netherlands.
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Image credit

Golden orb spider on web waiting for prey  
Golden orb spider on web waiting for prey

© Steffen and Alexandra Sailor / www.ardea.com

Ardea wildlife pets environment
59 Tranquil Vale
London
SE3 0BS
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 208 318 1401
ardea@ardea.co.uk
http://www.ardea.com

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