Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Palm Spider (Nephila inaurata)

Arachnophobes need read this post no further – but of course do scroll down to other posts! - as this spider fits the bill as a pretty frightening beast if you are that way inclined.

The Palm spider (Nephila inaurata), also known as the “red-legged golden orb-web spider”, can get pretty big. I have seen them, including leg span, soup dish-sized and building their webs from the telephone lines to the ground in the south of the main island of Mahe!

They are fairly common throughout Seychelles and on Denis can typically be seen in their webs along forest paths. The spiders themselves are harmless – unless of course you are an insect – and during fieldwork I have often accidentally walked through a web and had a spider scrambling over me, generally doing the best it can to get off as quickly as possible.

Their webs are strong and are reputed to be able to ensnare even small birds though I have never observed such an occurrence. The large spider at the centre of the web is the female whereas the male is very much smaller and can often be seen nearby typically on the other side of the web (see photo in sidebar). I am often asked and do not have the answer for whether the female eats the males – I don’t think so – but it may be for good reason that the males are typically found on the other side of the web!

I have dithered as to whether to do a post on the palm spider for fear of putting off people from visiting the island. This however is the tropics and visitors to such destinations should expect to find life teaming in all forms. Seychelles in fact has very few creepy-crawlies when compared to tropical continental landmasses and none of them are dangerous. In the case of this spider it remains stationary in its webs in the forest and is not one that you need worry may come and visit you in your room. So don’t be put off, the Palm spider is in fact a very interesting species fulfilling its role and occupying its place in the island ecosystem.

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