Madagascar golden orb spiders are best known for weaving large, strong webs out of a golden-colored silk. The biggest webs can be six feet or more across.
They mainly inhabit the island of Madagascar, which is roughly 250 miles off Africa’s southeastern coast, but can also be found in certain parts of southern Africa.
Females are much larger than mature males, reaching four to five inches in length when full grown. Males are about one-sixth this size. In females, the dorsal side of the abdomen has bright yellow markings surrounded by a light gray border. The rest of the body and legs are black with patches of brown.
Females live for roughly one year, while males tend to live for close to six months.
Only females construct webs. Although some species of orb weavers build a new web each day, Nephila madagascariensis maintains its original one, simply making repairs where necessary. Once the web is stable, the spider will not stray far from it. Overall, golden orb spiders are rather docile, seldom exhibiting aggressive behavior. They pose no threat to humans, and their venom is potent enough only to other insects.
Adults mostly eat large flying insects, such as moths and flies, but will also eat non-flying insects that get caught in their web. Spiderlings eat fruit flies and other small flying insects.
Females stay near the center of their web while males settle in the corner and wait for a chance to mate. They usually make their move when the female has caught a meal or is in the process of molting her exoskeleton. Eggs hatch after nearly 30 days. Nymph spiderlings are about the size of a pinhead when they hatch. The spiderlings will stay within the egg case until their first molt, which is usually about five to six days after they hatch. At that point they emerge from the egg case and stay in a tight cluster until their second molt, which is about 24 to 30 days later. After this molt, they begin to disperse.
The Zoo's golden orb spiders live in the Invertebrate Exhibit. Because the spiders do not roam from their web, they are housed in an open enclosure—glass does not separate them from Zoo visitors.
Madagascar golden orb spiders are almost completely blind, only vaguely able to detect changes in light. Instead of using sight, the spiders mainly use their keen sense of touch to feel vibrations on their web and quickly track down tangled prey.