Species Spotlight: Golden-silk Orb Weaver

Golden-Silk Orb Weavers (Trichonephila clavipes), also known as Banana Spiders, are a sign of summer in the coastal southeast, their expansive metallic gold webs blocking off pathways entirely. Take a moment to inspect such a web next time you see one, you’ll notice there’s a lot going on all around it. There’s support strands, sticky catch strands, they even set up a 3-D array of strands outside of the web itself to act as a warning for you, so that you don’t walk the rest of the way through it and ruin all of their hard work. There are 7 different kinds of web silk that spiders make that vary in purpose, and the Golden-silk Orb Weavers can produce all of them by themselves. Their silk has a tensile strength greater than steel, and they are being studied to see if there is any practical application to such a material. Would you consider working in a spider farm or wearing a dress made of spider silk? At least one such golden dress has already been produced, and it only took four years and about one million spiders to make. As for why they need a web that is so strong, keep in mind that their prey is also large, such as dragonflies, and very rarely hummingbirds and even small snakes. One of their favorite food items are horseflies, which are possibly the fastest flying insects clocking in at 90 miles per hour. At that speed, horseflies punch through lesser webs like bullets, but when your web is as strong as Kevlar, not even they can escape. So even if you’re uncomfortable around spiders, at least appreciate the engineering marvels that they create, and the fact that they catch the bugs that can chase you down on the I-95.

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