Friday, September 28, 2007

Attacked by Giant Spiders!

Okay, now that I have got your attention with the overly sensational headline, let me rephrase that. The hills behind the university are fairly scenic, and criss-crossed with trails nice for hiking. I have walked in them many times over the last three or four years. On no occassion however, have I ever seen what I did a few weeks ago: Dozens and dozens of very large spiders with enormous (three to four-foot) webs. While they are not attacking, it is no exaggeration to say the hills are literally overrun with spiders.

The nature of the beast? It was tough to find out. But after some searching around, I have come to the conclusion that the spider is something called Nephila maculata, The Golden Orb Web spider, also referred to as the Golden Silk Orb weaver, and the Giant Wood spider.
I grew up in Florida with all kinds of creatures — snakes, alligators, plenty of insects — out and about regularly, so I feel pretty well-adjusted around critters. This spider, however, is kind of creepy. It is huge — I am 5′11″ 180 pounds, and these spiders were bigger than my spread out hand. And lightning fast, I discovered when I got too close with the camera.

There is a pretty good webpage here that provides an overview of what this spider is all about.

Among other things, it details the use of the spider's silk in countries around Asia — the spider is found everywhere from Japan to the south Pacific.The spider's silk, apparently, is incredibly strong — while I find this is a bit dubious, the page at one point compares it to Kevlar. One webpage I read said that in Japanese the spider is referred to as the “femme fatale” spider. Apt perhaps, as the big ones that we saw were mostly female, the male being nearly a fifth the size.

What is most interesting to me is how these spiders absolutely came to dominate this little habitat of the hills behind the school in just a couple of years. On our hike, my friends and I saw literally dozens of these things over the course of a mile or two. No birds to prey upon them? Actually, if I were any bird other than a condor, I would keep right on flying if I came face to face with one of these things.