Natural Insecticide: 6-inch banana spider

By Rady Ananda

This six-inch female weaved a web support line so strong that it impeded my opening the patio door – not by much, of course, but enough that I could feel it. The silk of Nephila clavipes surpasses the strength of Kevlar, a fiber used in bulletproof vests. And she layers it.

Nephila clavipes (banana spider) by Rady Ananda Sept.2009, Ft. Lauderdale

Nephila clavipes (banana spider) by Rady Ananda Sept.2009, Ft. Lauderdale

Nephila clavipes is commonly known as golden silk orb-weaver, golden silk spider, calico spider, giant wood spider, writing spider, and banana spider.

Nephila clavipes (banana spider) Josh Hillman

Nephila clavipes (banana spider) Josh Hillman, 2002, Tallahassee

Webs can be up to six feet in diameter (usually 3 feet), and are very sticky. In the sun, the bright gold strands glow, attracting bees to their doom. As with most spiders, the female ingests damaged parts of the web. Unlike most spiders, N. clavipes adapts to disruption and will not likely repair frequently damaged areas. Thus, the web is rarely symmetrical.

That also means I can open the patio door without bothering her again. In this photo, the webbing can be faintly seen against the black screen:

Nephila clavipes (banana spider) Rady Ananda Sept.2009 So FLA

Nephila clavipes (banana spider) Rady Ananda Sept.2009 So FLA

Banana spiders live in warm regions, from North Carolina and across the Gulf States through Central America, as far south as Argentina, and into the West Indies. Larger relatives occur in the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and Madagascar. The males emerge in July and the females much later, between August and October. (Hawkinson 2006) Ours arrived the end of August, here in South Florida. She’ll live one year, barring disaster.

This is Josh Hillman’s close-up dorsal view, which is much sharper than I could get on my zoom, but the pattern and texture differ on my banana spider (where the spots are bumps):

Nephila clavipes (banana spider) Josh Hillman 2002 Tallahassee FL

Nephila clavipes (dorsal view) Josh Hillman 2002 Tallahassee FL

The ventral surface on our spider bears a colorful bright pattern:

Nephila clavipes (ventral view) Rady Ananda Sept.2009 So FLA

Nephila clavipes (ventral view) Rady Ananda Sept.2009 So FLA

The males are much smaller, as this Hillman photo shows:

Nephila clavipes (with male) Josh Hillman 2002 Tallahassee FL

Nephila clavipes (with male) Josh Hillman 2002 Tallahassee FL

But that size difference can be extreme. In our pair, the female is about 6 inches long and the male is about 1.5″.

Nephila clavipes (with male) by Rady Ananda Sept.2009 South FLA

Nephila clavipes (with male) by Rady Ananda Sept.2009 South FLA

The next photo lets you see her size against the patio eaves. The male appears as a tiny pale clump just above the top left leg. (She’s hanging upside down, so it’s her right rear leg.)

Nephila clavipes (with male). The camera is 5 feet above ground. It's 9 feet to the bottom of the eave. (Rady Ananda Sept.2009 South FLA)

Nephila clavipes (with male). The camera is 5 feet above ground. The bottom of the eave is 9 feet above ground. (Rady Ananda Sept.2009 South FLA)

Banana spiders prey on a wide variety of small to medium sized flying insects, including mosquitoes, grasshoppers, stinkbugs, leaf-footed bugs, bees, butterflies, flies, small moths and wasps. Banana spiders have even been seen feeding on beetles and dragonflies.” (Hawkinson 2006)

That makes them beneficial to gardens, garden parties, and the environment (using no toxic chemicals). Altho that size is a little freaky for this transplanted Ohio gal, she’ll spend her short life with us and help with insect clean-up in this year’s garden.

After my first barely successful garden attempt down here, I learned that Florida’s growing season is September thru June. That’s the opposite of Ohio’s growing season of May thru October. Another difference in this garden will be the seeds. This time, we got ahold of heirloom seeds from South Florida, that have been passed on for generations. We’ll be trying:

Parsley, sage and basil;
Celery, broccoli, carrots, and sweet banana peppers;
A mesclun mix lettuce and spinach; and
Three kinds of tomatoes: Roma, beefsteak and Juliett grape tomato.

I’ll let you know how my garden grows.

5 responses to “Natural Insecticide: 6-inch banana spider

  1. Good luck with your gardening.

    As a young boy, having just moved from NY, one of my new found friends invited me to spend a weekend at a campsite his family had.

    On our way there, going through back-dirt roads, I happened to hang my arm out the window feeling the breeze and letting an occasional weed brush my hand. When, as I’m looking away, I feel something crawling-up my arm.

    Yup, Ma-ma Banana Spider.

    I almost broke my arm shaking her off. It’s a wonder I didn’t develop a livelong 9th degree case of Acrophobia.

    We have this weird little spider that has been showing-up in spring, and fall I can’t find much about, and it’s spooky. I’m searching for a picture of it that I took as I type. What makes it spooky is that it resembles a skull with spiked horns. Can be pale to bright yellow with black to blood-red markings. Small, at most largest are 1/2 W X 3/8H.

    So far they don’t seem aggressive, but they do place their near perfectly spun webs everywhere, so you really have to be on the look-out. And for as small as they are, their web is strong.

    I can’t find the picture, I might have lost it. Too bad, because it is one impressive little skull. It very much looks like it could be a “death-mask” that rivals any you’ve ever seen made by any tribal witch-doctor anywhere, it is down-right freaky. Beautiful, but freaky.

    And the fact that it seems to be new to the area, past 4 years, makes me wonder if Katrina had anything to do with this sudden appearance.

    • HA HA HA … reminds me of my io moth story when I was three. only it stung the hell out of me – my tears and crying were more about getting my feelings hurt that that pretty creature hurt me. lol…

      check out this link and see if your spider is among these pix.

      I bet a lot of stuff got blown around during Katrina (and Wilma, Andrew, etc.). I do know that wind is how spiders colonize new land.

  2. Disaster struck today. A wind storm blew the banana spider away.

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