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the web of life in southern Africa

Nephilidae (golden orb-web spider family)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Ecdysozoa > Panarthropoda > Tritocerebra > Arthropoda > Arachnomorpha > Cheliceriformes > Chelicerata > Euchelicerata > Arachnida > Araneae > Araneomorpha

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 spaces.

These spiders pose no threat to people. The common name is inappropriate as the only genus in this family to use yellow silk is Nephila.

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 spiders)

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)

A 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 32: 95-135.
  • 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: 1451-1463.
  • 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 ©.