Eight-legged giants

Most people shriek at the mere sight of a spider, no matter how small or how harmless it might be. These eight-legged creatures definitely do not feature on the list of favourite animals of most, but are found all around us, and thus are encountered regularly. The forested habitat of Singinawa Jungle Lodge is no exception, and several species of spiders call this patch of forest their home.

One of the most conspicuous eight-legged denizen of Singinawa is the aptly-named Giant Wood Spider (Nephila pilipes). A drive in the tiger reserve or a walk in the forested land of Singinawa just after the rainy season will bring you face to face with this amazing spider. Making most of the season of plenty, these Giant Wood Spiders remain active throughout the monsoon season, breeding multiple times, before retreating into hibernation for the harsher winter and summer seasons. It is actually the female which gives the species its English name. Dressed in black and yellow, female Giant Wood Spiders can grown to become 20 cm long. That is as big as your palm! The diminutive, red-coloured males on the other hand are a mere centimetre in length, a whooping 20 times smaller than their better halves!

Giant Wood Spider female close-up.JPG
Close-up of a female Giant Wood Spider.
Giant Wood Spider male
A male Giant Wood Spider, which can be 20 times smaller than the female.

Besides their size, what makes Giant Wood Spiders impressive are their enormous webs. Big females build webs stretching up to 10 ft wide and 20 ft tall. The webs are typical circular-shaped, vertical webs, called orb webs. The spider thus gets an alternate English name, the Golden Orb-weaver. These impressive webs are used to catch prey; mostly insects, but occasionally small birds too! Males are sometimes seen on the periphery of these giant webs, waiting for an opportunity to approach the female and mate.

Redstart in GWS web
A female Black Redstart caught in the Giant Wood Spider’s web.
Giant Wood Spider - courting
A couple of males fighting for the mating rights with a female, while on her web.

Besides the males, you might occasionally spot some tiny, shiny spiders on the webs of the female Giant Wood Spiders. These spiders actually belong to a completely different family of spiders, and are present on the web as there is an amazing opportunity in the waiting. Female Giant Wood Spiders are not good housekeepers, and often ignore the responsibilities of cleaning their webs. As such, small insects, too small for a giant spider to be bothered with, remain caught in their webs, and the tiny spiders are here to consume them. But more often than not, these tiny guests feed on the larger prey caught by the Giant Wood Spiders. This act of stealing food from the host spider earns these tiny spiders their name, kleptoparasitic spiders.

Kleptoparasitic spider
A tiny kleptoparasitic spider, less than 1 cm in length, feeding on a tiny fly caught in the Giant Wood Spider’s web.
Kleptoparasitic spider
A kleptoparasitic spider sharing a meal with a female Giant Wood Spider without her realising it.

Even if you are mortally afraid of spiders, a closer look at a Giant Wood Spider will leave you stunned. ‘Conservation through appreciation’ is our motto at Singinawa, and getting you to appreciate this beautiful spider is a small step towards this effort.

Pranad Patil
Naturalist, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

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