Shrieking Nightmare Material

 

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Nephila clavipes, Nephilidae, Linnaeus 1767

When I first met her, her sheer size was amazing. When I observed her for some time, I marveled at her power. Good thing, I’m not a shrieker.

Like all araneoidea spiders, Nephila (“love to spin”) clavipes (“hooked foot”), the Golden Silk Orb Weaver, specializes in web weaving. Their long legs are striped and curve (‘hook’) inward at the tips for superior high-wire walking. The females also sport quite distinctive feathery gaiters on their leg segments. All Nephilas are araneomorphic spiders, whose chelicerae or fangs cross in a pincer movement. They can and will pinch humans when disturbed and since the fangs distribute venom, these cuts are painful and allergic people may need to get their EpiPens ready. So, don’t play with Nephilas!

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Lady Nephilas are considerably larger than their mates, as you can see here – if you can even find the little guy. This female is about 2″/5cm long, excluding leg span. The mister is less than half an inch or just about one centimeter. This extreme sexual dimorphism can actually be a lifesaving advantage: those dainty fellows won’t make a satisfying meal, so why bother to kill them!

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Tableau de Mortalité
The Lady of Death surrounded by her mate and her victims

Viewed dorsally as in the picture above, the Nephila family of orb weavers always shows a silvery white cephalothorax, the fused head and chest segments of spiders. The large, elongated abdominal tagma can be a range of colors from bright green to orangy brown, depending on the genus, with yellow, orange & black markings. The highly important spinneret complex is located ventrally. The webs of orb weavers may appear messy or even ripped in places, but these multi-layered nets, usually suspended vertically, which can be over 1m/3ft in diameter, are very elaborate hunting grounds, with sticky and non-sticky areas and sturdy support strands. Silk produced by Naphila clavipes has been used successfully as scaffolding for Schwann cells in in-vivo experiments to repair peripheral nerve damage in mammals.

And speaking of hunting, the pretty butterfly prey in the picture above, was a fresh kill of a Melanis pixesanguinea, a Red-Bordered Pixie.

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Watch in the next series of pictures, how Ms. Naphila reels in her nicely packaged pixie.

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She will now proceed to lyse the content of the butterfly bundle with enzymes since spiders can only slurp, not chew.

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External digestion has begun …
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… and is quickly finished. Her mate is suspended on the right.
Next, something quite startling happens. The tasty carcass is dropped into the net, while madam, in one swift leap, captures her next meal, a wasp, which apparently became entangled in the sticky portion of the net, while the spider was drinking her butterfly snack.
And in an equally abrupt move, she hastily returns to her favorite ‘home spot’ in the web, surrounded by her cache, dazed dupes dangling.

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To conclude our excursion into the realm of cold-blooded huntresses, a few more close-ups:

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Dorsal view – indistinct colors owing to lighting.
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Ventral view
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Ventral view with butterfly prey, male hovering above female.
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Lateral view with prey

What a gal! 
My thanks to Marcella & Mike, our friends & neighbors, who have the most gorgeous tropical garden. One of their palms has been Ms. Nephila’s home for the last several weeks.

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