Golden Orb Weaver

Golden Orb Weaver (Nephila clavipes)
Spanish name: Araña de Oro

Habitat
This spider strings its large web between trees in the forest across trails or gaps. Because they build in spots other insects are passing through, the spider may choose areas in moderate or even sparse forest.

Range

The golden orb weaver can be found in lowland forests from the southern regions of Florida and Texas down through Panama. In Costa Rica it survives on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

National Parks
Corcovado National Park, Curu National Wildlife Refuge, Palo Verde National Park, and Cahuita National Park.

Physical Description

Both this spider and her web are large and conspicuous in the forests of Costa Rica. The female registers her species as one of the largest spiders in Central America. The female has a long but rounded olive brown body with light spots. With her very long legs and striking coloration, the female looks like quite the predator, especially next to her company. Male golden orbs are tiny compared to their mates, and one or more males often perch somewhere on the female’s web, taking advantage of the ample food supply.

Biology and Natural History
This spider normally rests in the center of her enormous web made of brilliant gold-colored silk. The web can be a meter wide, strung between branches and a few meters off the ground. When an insect catches in the silk, the female golden orb slides over to it, bites it, and injects venom that paralyzes the prey. Then she wraps it in silk and moves it before beginning to eat. The males usually sit off to the side where they can be protected by overhanging leaves. These males and other creatures will poach prey captured by the female’s web. Thieves include other spiders, damselflies, wasps, and even hummingbirds.

Diet
Golden orb weavers will catch and consume different species of flies, bees, beetles, moths, and butterflies. Some butterflies are less palatable due to toxins or other chemicals in their bodies; the golden orb will recognize these and free them from the web.

Height/Weight
An adult female has a body length of 3 to 4 cm and a leg span of 5 cm. Her mate is comparatively tiny: adult males have a body length of 4 to 8 mm.

Sources
Henderson, Carrol L. Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica. University of Texas Press, Austin, 2002.
Hogue, Charles L. Latin American Insects and Entomology. University of California Press: Berkely and Los Angeles, 1993.

-Amy Strieter, Wildlife Writer