One of America’s largest spiders is preparing to lay her eggs in the Southeast.
After nearly a year of growth and molting, the palm-sized females of the golden silk orb weaver have reached their formidable maximum size.
“In a deciduous or swamp forest in Alabama or the Southeast this time of year, you’ll find large golden silk orb weavers about to enter the next stage of their life cycle,” Marianne Gauldin, outreach coordinator for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, he said Newsweek.
“These species are likely to be in close proximity to humans, especially in areas in the southeast where people have their homes close to a forested area.”
Female golden silk orb weaver bodies can grow up to three inches in length, not including their legs. Their tubular abdomen is usually bright orange with white spots and is curved like a banana, which explains why they are sometimes called the “banana spider.” Their huge orange legs are striped with brown stripes, and their golden orb-shaped webs can be up to 3 feet in diameter.
“When they hatch in early spring they are very tiny,” Gauldin said. “They spend all spring and early summer growing and molting. And right now, in October, they’ve reached full adult size and are much easier to spot.”
While females grow to the size of a hand, males are usually only the size of a fingernail. Mating can be a difficult task.
“Sometimes [the male] he will fall prey to his wife,” Gauldin said. “Other times he can be very clever and very sneaky in how he approaches her. She will usually hang out on the outskirts of her web, or sometimes even on the opposite side of the web, where she can be close to her body but have the protection of the web between them.”
After laying her eggs, the female wraps them in a leaf to hide them from hungry predators. “It will die when the weather turns cold and those eggs will overwinter and then hatch in late winter/early spring,” Gauldin said.
Despite their terrifying appearance, these spiders are harmless to humans. “[Although] spiders can bite…the venom they have is not medically important to humans,” Gauldin said. “But it can [still] give enough pinch. And of course, anyone could have an allergic reaction, but that would be unusual.”
“It’s not the kind of spider that would enter a house on purpose,” he said. “However, because they are building their webs [in trees] About the height of the head for people, very often they can accidentally take a walk. So you might have one in your hat, you might have one on your back, and then they surprise you when they come down to your house.”
Although you may not want one in your home, these harmless animals provide gardeners with a great service by catching insects. They are also an important food source for many species of birds.
“One thing to watch out for if you see one of these golden silk spiders is that it’s nearing the end of its life,” Gauldin said. “If you find one in your house…it’s not there on purpose. It just wants to be put back out.”