Spiders · Urban Ecology · Biodiversity

Observations of Golden Orb Weavers

It’s getting pretty cold Sydney in the moment, which means that most orb weaving spiders are coming towards the end of their season and I finally have some time to reconcile the work I’ve been doing for the last few months.

Lizzy-with-spider

Some of the Golden Orb Weaving spiders I released for my transplant experiment are still around so I thought I would share some of my (mostly unexplained) observations and questions about these spiders.

Observation 1) How do they die?

We’re really not sure what eats golden orb weavers. They are very conspicuous with their fat bodies and their big webs out in the open, so why don’t they get eaten more often? Maybe they are just not tasty or it could be that their strong 3D web structure is enough to deter most birds (for reasons obvious in the photo below from the telegraph news paper).

Birds must eat some of them because I’ve noticed many of my spiders missing with a large hole in the middle of the web. Also, while I was out releasing my spiders I got to experience a rare predation event first hand as a Kookaburra swooped down in front of me and gobbled one up. So I guess they are tasty!

I also found one very dead looking spider in her web next to a dead bee. The spider must have been a bit too slow in wrapping up her prey and got stung by the bee. Interestingly the next week I went back and the spider was sluggish but alive. She lasted a few more weeks.

Parasitism is probably also a large player. I found this spider dead in the web with a hole in her abdomen:

And I’ve seen a number of spiders parasitised during my trips out in the field, I felt really sorry for this little garden spider!

Observation 2) Reproduction

I placed some of my spiders out in the middle of national parks to see if they survived longer than the ones in the city. I didn’t see any other golden orb weavers in these locations and yet 3 weeks into the trial a male turns up on one of the females webs. There is no way he could have come in with the female so I guess he was just out there waiting and got very lucky? There must be lots of disappointed males out there.

I’ve also seen many females make egg sacks this year, which is a relief because many didn’t survive long enough to breed last year (it was a very hot summer). On many occasions the spider will die after she has created her egg sac, and those that don’t die often move webs. I’m not sure why they would do this, they only move ~5m and I would have thought it easier to go back to their original web.Â

 

Observation 3) Web building and… swapping?

Some of the spiders I released started making their webs straight away, by dropping down on a long thread and drifting to another branch. Almost all of the spiders I found had made their webs after the first week. But one spider, still tagged, showed up over 2 months after I had released her, in a web right next to her release spot. So she must have been sitting around for weeks, with no way to catch food… I wonder what she was waiting for.

I’ve also noticed a few occasions when spiders will swap webs. I’ve never witnessed conflict between two spiders because they usually stay in their own web but maybe the bigger one decides she wants the web of the smaller one sometimes. This also makes it quite hard to keep track of who is who, lucky most of my bee tags stayed on!

16 Comments

  1. Merlin Coughlan's Gravatar Merlin Coughlan
    March 2, 2018    

    I currently have 2 golden orb weaving spiders in my garden – one inside the chook house has a huge fat abdomen, the other outside between a couple of gum trees has the more usual almost hexagonal shaped abdomen – why the difference?
    An interesting side note, in the 10 years I have been observing them in the garden this is the first time I have noticed other spiders colonising the web of the one outside – scores of tiny dewdrop spiders scuttle round the web adding their own little touches.

  2. Andy Behr's Gravatar Andy Behr
    March 25, 2018    

    Good Day, Ms. Lowe,

    I don’t know if you’ll read this, but I hope you do. I live in the United Sates, and I LOVE spiders. I’ve contacted Rick Vetter about an unusual garden orb weaver hanging around my house that I’ve named Love. Unfortunately, orb weavers aren’t his specialty, but he did tell me some info (via email) regarding these spiders that he thought might shed some light on questions I have. I need more answers though.

    Basically, Love has been living in one of the doorways outside my house for over ten months now. When she first arrived, she was not a spiderling. She was immature, but she was growing quite rapidly. Over almost a year now, I’ve watched and studied her when I’ve had the opportunity. She is rather extraordinary in many ways, I feel.

    For one thing, she is still alive. It’s March 25, 2018, and I understand these spiders don’t live much past the early winter if their lucky. We’re in spring. Next, although her abdomen is half its size now compared to when she had a steady diet of prey, Love continues to try and spin webs every now and again. They are only constructed of radial strands as it seems her sticky thread for spinning spiral strands has run out, or she’s saving it (maybe). The webs she has constructed are not complete as well. They are missing spiral strands in different places. I cannot take a picture as her web is too light to show up on my camera. Finally, she seems to have been ‘watching’ her prey as she has spun her webs in locations of the door where many moths seems to congregate during the winter season. Also, she once connected her web to an abandoned cellar spider’s web to perhaps gain some sticky thread. I don’t know, but it was fascinating watching her consume part of her web to another and then sit on the web like a cellar spider would do. By the way, she hasn’t eaten in three months. When she did have a steady diet, she would adjust her web according to the food she needed. Thus, if she was hungry, she’d spin her web lower on the door and more in the light coming from the hallway of the house. The opposite held true if she caught a katydid, whereby she would build her web higher in the doorway, away from the light.

    The final things I would like to mention is that – and I know this is going to sound crazy – but she seems to react to my tapping on the glass part of the door. I won’t say more about that because you’ll probably think I’m a loon. One other thing I noticed is when she goes to sleep in the early morning, Love ‘backs’ into her web. In other words, she takes a few small steps backwards into her resting place. Is that normal? I’ve only seen her do it twice, but I’m not always there to see her go to bed. From what I understand, insects/arachnids don’t move backwards. Anyway, I believe Love has some shown some degree of intelligence as opposed to pure instinct. Am I wrong? Is she exhibiting just typical spider behavior?

    I’m sorry for the long post, but I wish someone could give me some definitive answers. I’ve heard of these types of orb weavers living in captivity until early spring (even then rarely), but they were fed and kept in a warm climate. Love is outside, and I’ve never fed her. I tried once but didn’t have the heart to kill a moth. I hope you can leave me a short reply because I’m beyond baffled by this spider.

    Best,
    Dr. Andy Behr
    California, U.S.A.

    • Lizzy's Gravatar Lizzy
      July 9, 2018    

      Hi Andy, Thanks for your wonderful observations! I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to see this message. Is Love still alive?
      It’s not unusual for orb weavers to be able to survive two seasons if they have had enough to eat and have a nice safe place to live.
      I hope you continue to watch and enjoy these wonderful creatures 🙂

  3. Rachael wilson's Gravatar Rachael wilson
    April 30, 2018    

    My Adelaide golden orb suddenly died with an orange looking protrusion from her abdomen; can anyone tell me what happened?

    • Lizzy's Gravatar Lizzy
      July 9, 2018    

      Orb weaving spiders are often parasitised by wasps! this could have been the case with your spider. did you see if the orange protrusion moved?

    • Aljosa's Gravatar Aljosa
      September 10, 2019    

      Mine too !!! It was all normal,eating her snack. after few hours I checked on her and she was gone from the web,and whats more strange she left her meal on the web. They usually drop them down when they finish eating it. I searched all over and found her inside one of the leaves,kinda looking hurt and with strange thing on the belly,just like the one you mentioned. I took her out and she was motionless…I guess shes dead but I hoped she was just in some kind of strange stage like she was making empty egg sacs. 2 to be more specific. BTW she was not attacked by wasp,its inside my house and the only thing that was under her web were cockroaches roaming around. Im in need of explanation because I rly liked this spider…

  4. Amber's Gravatar Amber
    August 26, 2018    

    Ms. Lowe,

    There is a garden orb weaver that has settled right outside of our backdoor, in a corner between rails. We’ve been calling her Lexi. She started off large, but now she is huge! My husband and I have been watching Lexi for quite some time now, completely fascinated. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t grown emotionally attached to her. Usually I loathe spiders.

    Something strange recently happened and I was hoping you could shed some light. Lexi was visted by a smaller spider that is a lighter color than her. At first it seemed that the new spider was being predatory, but after some research and observation we learned that they were probably mating.

    Since he arrived a day ago she has dropped from her web completely and moved across the porch to another corner – almost five feet away. The male spider is still hanging in her old web, though he hasn’t added to the three or four strands that are remaining. She seems very slow and sluggish. This week has been slightly cooler, despite it being the end of summer. It’s felt more like early fall.

    What does his behavior indicate? I’ve read that females usually eat the males after the second copulation. Is there a reason this didn’t occur?

    Thank you!!

  5. Angie's Gravatar Angie
    October 10, 2018    

    I had a orb spider (Henrietta) make a wonderful web on my sliders to the back deck. She stayed for about a month. Then on a cool rainy Friday morning, I noticed she wasn’t in her sleeping spot. (Just a above her web). She has now been gone for 5 days. Is it possible she will return? Could she be dead? I can’t bring myself to take down her web if there is a possibility she will return. What are your thoughts?

  6. Paige Berryhill Dunlap's Gravatar Paige Berryhill Dunlap
    October 18, 2018    

    Dr. Lizzy, My family has had the pleasure of hosting a beautiful golden orb weaver for over 50 days, outside of our garden / rear doorway. She’s been fascinating. I’ve observed a spider of this kind every year in October. I feel very fortunate to host them! 😉

    This female made two webs two days ago. (She usually makes one every morning, after taking down the old. Is this normal?

    But this day she was startled by my husband taking a photo. Then made the second web. Stayed there for one day. And now she’s vanished. Leaving both webs. She’s been gone three days.

    It’s late October in Alabama. Evening temps dipping down into the 50s. Shall I expect her return?? We’ve grown to love her.

    Thank you. I find your work fascinating!

    Paige Berryhill Dunlap
    HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA
    OCTOBER 17, 2018

  7. February 16, 2019    

    Lizzy! I hope you see this!
    My partner and I have been observing a golden orb spider at the front of our house, perched between a staircase and a wall right above the bins. The perfect spot for bugs. She is beautiful.

    We observed her arrival, her growth over about a 3 month period (I think?). Over this time, she has mated, made her golden egg pouch under the stairs, killed and eaten the male and had a Quicksilver spider move in with her. Always in her web

    But in the last 3 days she has been absent the web, and instead sitting near motionless and undisturbable just below the rail to the gait at the top of the stairs, in plain view. I am wondering if these are signs of her death? No doubt if it is I’ll soon find out anyway I guess.

    Have you observed this possible type of near death behaviour?

    I have loved observing her over this time, she’, no almost become a friend. It’s great to have a spider smile and greet you every day as you spiral around it’s beautiful golden web. I found this blog trying to learn more about her behaviours! Thanks for posting! It’s fascinating.

    • Lizzy's Gravatar Lizzy
      February 3, 2020    

      I’m so sorry I missed this last year, I know the feeling when they become household friends and its so sad when they leave us!
      Did she survive the episode? do you have new friends this year?

  8. Kerryn H's Gravatar Kerryn H
    May 30, 2019    

    Our orb spider near our front door (Charlotte) usually curls up under the eve during the day and fixes her web at night and sits proudly in the middle. For the last four nights (has been cold) she has not cone out of her daytime hiding spot. We can see her but she is all curled up. Do you think she is dying? We are very worried about her.

  9. rnk's Gravatar rnk
    July 22, 2019    

    Hi, I just have to ask. I love spiders and I had a beautiful banana garden spider in front of my garage. I would feed her crickets from time to time and watch her grow. She’s been in the same spot for half a year. But one day she decided to expand her web so that it was going to cover the entrance/exit of my car. Sadly I couldn’t let her build her web there. I decided to move her gently to another part of the garden (which I considered ideal for making her web). She climbed up several branches, exploring I guess. Then I lost track of her. Now I can’t find her. It’s really sad. It’s silly but I worry about her and I miss her. How long does it take for the spider to weave her web again and do they travel far? Sorry for the long post. Thanks so much.

  10. August 1, 2019    

    I have 2 garden spiders on my back porch rail and one is fairly large while the other is a little smaller. Charlotte the larger one has made one large egg sack and has been keeping her web tidy and is finding a good supply of grasshoppers to eat. Today I noticed she has a tiny male on the bottom of her web and that she has not remade her web from last night. She is sitting higher up on her web and is looking ill with her legs barely hanging on to the web. I looked and she has not made another egg sack but I’m afraid she is dying for some reason. Or could she be resting before she makes another egg sack? By the way while she is up higher on the web the male has taken over the center of the web. Does this mean anything? I really hope she isn’t dying as it has been so much fun watching the two make their webs, take them down then remake them. Oh yes one more thing they both react to having a flash light shined at them when I walk the dogs at night. They will raise their back end and then will settle back on the web. I hope someone can tell me why Charlotte is acting this way. The smaller one, Charlene, is doing just fine. I live in Texas and they are doing really well it the heat.

  11. Matthew's Gravatar Matthew
    February 2, 2020    

    Hey Lizzy, are you still into Orbs?
    We had an Orb die the other morning and wondered whether it was a bee sting or parasite.
    He had been fine only a few hours earlier that same morning.
    There weren’t any bees directly with him but there were at least half a dozen in the web.
    When you talk about parasite being a cause of death, has a wasp injected the orb?
    If that’s the case what happens once the parasite breaks from the orb?

    • Lizzy's Gravatar Lizzy
      February 3, 2020    

      Hi, yes, I’ll always be into orbs 🙂
      They can get stung by bees, they often eat bees but arent always fast enough.
      Parasites are also an option, if this was the case you would see a hole in the abdomen where the parasite (normally wasp larvae) would have burst out.
      The emerged parasite will then do it’s own thing as an adult wasp, mate and then lay it’s eggs in another unsuspecting spider!

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