Known for their impressive and durable webs, banana spiders – or golden orb-weavers – live in warmer regions of the world. Their genus name Nephila comes from Ancient Greek and translates to “fond of spinning.”
The banana spider goes by many names – giant wood spider, calico spider, writing spider and silk orb-weaver spider – but these creatures are mostly harmless and can be beneficial in the garden.
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Banana Spider Identification
Banana spiders are known for their impressive webs and distinct appearance. Let’s take a closer look at this spider’s appearance and behavior.
1. Appearance and Size
The banana spider is reddish to greenish yellow in color and has a distinctive whiteness on its abdomen. Like many other spider species, these creatures have striped legs that are designed for weaving.
The spider’s contrasting brown and green/yellow colors help ward off predators.
Females have a silver-colored carapace with yellow-colored spots and a cylindrical body.
Female banana spiders are significantly larger than male banana spiders. Females are typically 1-3″ long, while males are less than 1″ long. The largest ever banana spider ever recorded was a 2.7″ female in Queensland, Australia.
The females are some of the largest non-tarantula-like spiders in North America and among the largest orb weavers in the United States, second only to black-and-yellow garden spiders (black-and-yellow argiope spiders).
2. Diet and Feeding Habits
Banana spiders prey on a variety of insects, both small and medium in size. From mosquitoes to stink bugs, grasshoppers, bees, leaf-footed bugs, small moths, flies, butterflies and wasps, these spiders eat many insects that we consider pests.
When prey gets caught in the spider’s durable web, it sends vibrations along the strands that alerts the spider it’s time to eat. It then weaves a silk-like cocoon around the victim before bringing its meal back to the web’s hub. Experts still aren’t sure why banana spiders do this with their prey, but it may be to reduce the amount of food stolen by parasites like Argyrodes.
The banana spider’s feeding habits change throughout its lifetime. As spiderlings, they inhabit one large communal web and feed on their dead siblings as well as dead prey. But at this stage, they don’t attack live creatures.
As banana spiders molt and become mature enough to build their own webs, they begin attacking live prey. As they grow, they gain more confidence and attack larger prey.
3. Habitat and Distribution
Nephila spiders are commonly found in warmer regions of the world, including Asia, Australia, the Americas and Africa. The N. clavipes species is found in the southern United States from North Carolina to Texas.
Spiderlings are often carried by the wind over long distances. Each year, a small population travels across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand.
Banana spiders like to build their webs in dense vegetation where insects are likely to fly through.
The banana spider weaves big webs that are up to three feet wide. Their webs are complex, with a fine-meshed in the midst of a maze of sticky barrier webs.
The reason these spiders are known as golden orb-weavers is because their web is a golden color in the sun.
The color of the spider silk is believed to have two purposes: to ensnare bees who are attracted to the yellow threads, and to act as a camouflage. The yellow-colored threads blend in with the background foliage.
Because they’re hard to see and usually built at eye level, these webs can be a nuisance for gardeners or flower pickers.
These spiders usually build their webs at the edges of dense forests and in open woods. Some build their webs as high as the treetops, but most weave their webs in shrubs and trees at eye-level height.
When weaving their beautiful webs, these spiders start with a spiral of non-sticky thread. Once complete, the spider returns to fill in the gaps and leaves the non-sticky spiral in place (unusual for an orb weaver).
Near the top of the web is an asymmetrical orb that acts as a hub. This is where the spider lies in wait for its prey. The hub is a semi-permanent structure, and the web’s prey-capturing mechanisms change as the spider goes through developmental changes.
As the web ages, the spider rebuilds certain parts that start losing their adhesive properties.
5. Reproduction and Lifespan
Once male banana spiders reach full maturity, they leave their webs to look for a suitable mate. Males usually use web characteristics to identify potential female mates.
Females typically mate at the beginning of adulthood just after their last molt and again later in life when feeding.
Multiple males compete with females for the chance to mate. Competition for space on the web can be fierce, but males rarely engage in physical combat. Smaller males usually give up their territory to larger males.
Males often approach females when they’re feeding, which gives them the opportunity to move in closer without her getting aggressive. It also means that she remains still when he makes his approach.
The male banana spider starts by tapping on a web strand to make sure the female is approachable before attempting to mate. If she’s aggressive, he’ll back away and stay in his position until she relaxes or retreats.
Unlike with other species of spiders, sexual cannibalism is rare among banana spiders.
Females produce egg sacs in the surrounding environment to protect their eggs. They deposit and protect their eggs on a silk platform where they cover their young in loose silk. The loose silk creates a sac, which is attached to nearby vegetation and hidden away from predators. Banana spider egg sacs contain between 300 and 3,000 eggs.
After their final molt, females will live about a month and males will live 2-3 weeks.
Uses of Banana Spider Silk
Banana spiders are highly prized for their silk, which is incredibly durable and a beautiful yellow color.
There have been efforts to produce garments from the silk of this spider, but no methods were commercially viable.
Along with garments, this golden silk can be used as part of tissue engineering because of its mechanical strengths and ability to promote cell adhesion.
Fisherman in certain parts of the world ball banana spider webs into a ball and throw them into the ocean. When the web unfolds underwater, it can be used to catch fish for bait.
Banana spider silk is extremely durable – stronger than the Kevlar fiber used to create bulletproof vests.
Banana Spiders in the Garden
Banana spiders are beneficial to have in the garden or even in your backyard. These spiders catch pests that most of us try to get rid of, like mosquitoes, moths, wasps and large centipede-like insects.
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These creatures are rarely found in row crops because these aren’t ideal locations to build their webs. But they will hang out in pecan and citrus groves, where the vegetation is a little more web-friendly.
You’re not likely to have a major infestation problem, and if you do happen to see one of these guys in your garden, you may want to keep it around.
Banana Spider Bites and Treatment
Nephila is an extremely venomous spider, but its venom isn’t potent enough to kill a human. It does have a neurotoxic effect like the black widow spider, but it’s not strong enough to be dangerous to human beings.
With that said, a bite from a banana spider will cause local pain, redness, and blisters. The bite and its side effects usually disappears in 24 hours. Some people are allergic to the venom, and that can cause more serious respiratory reactions and muscle cramps.
If you’re bit by a banana spider, get medical treatment as soon as possible. An allergic reaction to the venom can cause serious side effects.
Should You Get Rid of Golden Orb Weavers?
Should you kill a banana spider if you find its web in your yard or on your property? While you can get rid of these spiders, you may want to consider keeping them around. After all, they eat all of the pests that are a nuisance or damage your garden.
If you must get rid of these spiders, you can use the usual trap methods or repellents to keep them away. But if you have insect pest problem, you may want to let these guys build their webs and hang around.
Other Fun Facts
- Golden orb weavers get their name from the color of their web, which is gold or yellow when the sun hits it.
- Females build massive webs that can be as wide as one meter.
- Other small spiders may also live in a banana spider’s web and steal prey that gets caught in it.
- When mating, males sometimes get caught in the female’s web and are eaten before they get a chance to make their move.
Banana spiders can be friends of gardeners and homeowners looking to keep pests away. If you happen to see one near your garden or out in the yard, don’t panic. These creatures aren’t aggressive and their bites aren’t dangerous.