ClimateWatch

An initiative of Earthwatch Institute

  1. 24 Giant Golden Orb Spider, Nephila pilipes photo by Oliver Bradshaw

Giant Golden Orb Spider

Nephila pilipes

Appearance

  • Colour: the female’s abdomen can be variable but is typically brown to yellow with short silvery-white hairs. The legs are usually black with bright yellow patches on the underside of the many leg joints. Its palps (small leg-like structures on either side of its fangs) are distinctly red.
  • It makes golden webs, after which it is named.
  • Size: females are 4 – 4.5 cm long but the tiny males are only 5 – 6 mm long (body length). The females can have a legspan of up to 15 cm! 

Behaviour

  • Diet: insects including flies, beetles, locusts, moths and cicadas which are caught in a sticky, wheel-shaped web strung between trees and shrubs. The web’s yellow colour attracts insects and it is designed so that the slightest vibrations from trapped insects are transmitted to the spider. It is very strong and can even trap small birds and bats! Victims are wrapped in silk before being carried off to be eaten straight away or hung nearby for later. Small black and silver “pirate” spiders (often called Quicksilver Spiders) also inhabit the web, feeding on small trapped insects.
  • Movement: the female occupies the web continuously, usually sitting in the middle, and continually maintains it. She vibrates the web to distract potential predators, and also creates a "barrier network" of silk threads on one or both sides of the web to deter bird attacks. Males sit on the outskirts of the web.
  • Breeding: often several males will sit on the outskirts of a web, waiting for an opportunity to mate with the female. After mating, the female buries her single egg sac (which can contain over 2,000 eggs!) in the leaf litter or covers the egg sac in earth and litter. 

What to Observe

  • Presence of female spider (to establish the first and last sighting for the season)
  • Number of males in a web
  • Number of egg sacs in a single location
  • Number of "pirate" spiders (can be recorded in the Notes box)

ClimateWatch Science Advisor

Spiders may start appearing earlier in the year as a result of climate change warming the earth, and they may also start breeding earlier and appearing in areas that were previously too cold for them. However, at present in some areas, spiders have been appearing much later in the year than expected due to fluctuating temperatures and rain.

When To Look

Day or night throughout summer (most prevalent) and autumn

Where To Look

  • In eastern Australia north from Bellingen in New South Wales into the wet tropics region of north Queensland, particularly along the coast. It is also occasionally found in the rainforest areas in southern Queensland, as far south as Brisbane.
  • In urban areas and on the edges of tropical forests and rainforests.
  • Look in or between trees and shrubs, it can also be seen around buildings.

Giant Golden Orb Spider Occurrence Map ALA

References

McKeown, K 1963. Australian Spiders. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.

Simon-Brunet, B 1994. The Silken Web: a natural history of Australian spiders. Reed Books.

York Main, B 1976. Spiders. The Australian Naturalist Library, Collins.

  1. Search Species

  1. What Else?

    • Pirate spider: commonly called a Quicksilver Spider and may be mistaken for a male orb spider, it has a conical-shaped abdomen (body).
    • Coastal Golden Orb Spider (Nephila plumipes): doesn’t have the red colouring on its palps and has yellow bands near the end of each leg segment (the Giant Golden Orb Spider has discrete patches of bright yellow only on the underside of its leg joints).  
    • Golden Orb Weaver (Nephila edulis): doesn’t have the red colouring on its palps and often has yellow bands on its legs (the Giant Golden Orb has discrete patches of bright yellow only on the underside of its leg joints). It also has black “brushes” or hairs along its legs which the Giant species doesn’t have.
  1. Did You Know?

    They differ from other golden orb spiders as the females almost never eat their male partners!

    They tolerate other small species of spiders cohabiting their webs.

    Golden Orb Spiders are not aggressive and are probably harmless to humans. However, they should be approached with caution.