Nephilidae (golden orb-web spider family)
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This orb-weaving family was previously
included in the family Araneidae but was initially included in the family
Tetragnathidae due to certain morphological differences and the way in which
they capture and consume their prey. Subsequently, the African genera
Clitaetra, Nephila and Nephilengys were placed in the
resurrected Nephilidae by Dr Matjaž Kuntner, a scientist from Slovenia, who is
currently doing a world revision of this remarkable family.
Spiders in the family Nephilidae first bite
the prey caught in the web and then proceed to wrap it, while the Araneidae and
Tetragnathidae first wrap and then bite their prey. The African genera
Clitaetra and Nephilengys are nocturnal while Nephila is
diurnal; females range in body length from 7-40 mm. Nephila constructs a
large vertically inclined, sulphurous yellow orb-web which, in adults, has the
top section missing. Nephila fenestrata can form semi-social populations,
joining their webs onto one another, thus forming an awesome, almost
impenetrable curtain of webs - like something from an Indiana Jones movie ().
Nephila's web is usually supported between two trees and can span enormous
These spiders pose no threat to people. The
common name is inappropriate as the only genus in this family to use yellow silk
I would like to thank Matjaž Kuntner for
help with this family.
Genera native to southern Africa
Six species of which one, Clitaetra irenae
, occurs in southern Africa.
Nephila (golden orb-web
There are 15 Nephila species known globally, four of
which occur in southern Africa. Nephila komaci,
which occurs in southern Africa, is the largest known web-spinning spider, and
members of Nephila make the largest orb webs - in fact large
enough and strong enough to accidentally catch small birds.
Six species, with one, Nephilengys
cruentata, occurring in southern Africa.
Leucauge (silver marsh spider, silver vlei spider)
diurnal spider, resembling a small version of Nephila
but has no tibial brushes on the legs. The cephalothorax (head and thorax)
and legs are a plastic green in appearance while the elongated abdomen is
silver with green infusions while some species have yellow and red markings
as well. Eight species of this pantropical genus are recorded from South
Africa. Leucauge is derived from Greek "leukos" means "white"). The
horizontal to vertically inclined (45%) web is situated amongst low
vegetation, usually about 500 mm or lower, often in association with damp
vlei seepages in all habitats.
Publications (by date)
- Kuntner M. 2007. A monograph of Nephilengys, the pantropical
‘hermit spiders’ (Araneae, Nephilidae, Nephilinae). Systematic Entomology
- Kuntner M, Coddington JA, Hormiga G. 2008. Phylogeny of extant nephilid
orb-weaving spiders (Araneae, Nephilidae): testing morphological and
ethological homologies. Cladistics 24: 147-217.
- Kuntner M, Coddington JA, Schneider JM. 2009. Intersexual arms race?
Genital coevolution in nephilid spiders (Araneae, Nephilidae). Evolution 63:
- Kuntner M, Kralj-Fišer S, Schneider JM, Li D. 2009. Mate plugging via
genital mutilation in nephilid spiders: an evolutionary hypothesis. Journal
of Zoology 277: 257-266.
Text by Norman Larsen ©.