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November 30, 2020
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Qu’est Que C’est Nature: Banana Spider

Qu’est Que C’est Nature is the name of a regular series of short notes about commonly seen plants and animals that people encounter but may know little about, and authored by locally known naturalist, Mark W. LaSalle. The name of the series is a nod to Mark’s Cajun heritage: the phrase meaning “What is that?” Qu’est Que C’est Nature celebrates the simple natural wonders around us and hopefully encourages us all to take the time to enjoy our rich natural heritage.

Banana Spider Time of Year, Oh Nooooo!!!

For those of us that love the great outdoors, we know what to expect this time of the year – big, sticky spider webs everywhere you turn, with a Banana Spider hanging smack in the middle. Nephila clavipes is more properly known as the Golden Silk Spider, and although the females of this species are one of the largest of our North American web spinning spiders, and a bit scary, they are really push overs when you get to know them. So here are few myths and fun facts about this maligned denizen of our woodlands.

No, Banana Spiders did not come in on banana boats: they are true native species of the eastern U.S. and a large portion of South America. Its common name is more likely a reflection of the long, yellow abdomen that helps this spider stand out.

Yes, Banana Spiders can bite, as all spiders can, but only if provoked. You would bite too if you were squished between your web and an “arm-waving frantic human, screaming at the top of their lungs.” At worst their bites cause minor discomfort, and perhaps some reaction to the venom that the spider may inject, but not serious injury.

No, spiders do not want to bite us, including those whose venom is harmful to humans.  Despite your worst fears, spiders are not waiting for the chance to jump on you and bite you in the face. And yet, arachnophobia is serious for many people. For those of you that fear spiders, keep the “they don’t want to bite you” in the back of your minds, and hopefully it will help.

And where are the male Banana Spiders? They are a fraction of the size of females, all brown in color, and lurking on the edges of the female’s web. Each web may have multiple males hoping to mate with the resident female.

And what of the “golden silk?” Its function is not clearly understood, but the color of the web, along with the “messy” system of random strands of silk that are spun in front and back of the web are believed to help larger animals like birds “see” and avoid the web before they hit and damage it.

For those brave enough to take a closer look, there are any number of smaller spiders of several shapes and sizes that share the web with Banana Spiders. But that is for another installment of “Qu’est Que C’est.”

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