Posted by Arun
Spiders have always fascinated me. These arachnids, even though they are considered a lesser order of creatures, have always been the awe-inspiring tigers of the miniature world to me. Among them there are tiny spiders the size of ants (or even smaller) and big ones that can hunt and devour birds. But until recently I did not have the good fortune to see the Giant Wood Spiders, which are commonly found in forests, wasteland and gardens.
The D-day came when I had gone for spotting vultures at Ramnagara. It was a cloudy morning with slight drizzle when I started climbing Ramadevarabetta. As I started searching for birds in the canopy, all I could find was spiders. Spiders all around — big ones with equally big webs. They were the wood spiders, the giants themselves. I soon lost count of how many there were. In some areas where the canopy opened up, it was criss-crossed with the spiders and their webs. It was more than I could ask for!
|A sky full of spiders!|
While observing them, I found individuals of the same size and shape but different colours — one was black and yellow, and the other black and reddish-brown/orange. Although I found this interesting, I didn’t bother much, thinking that they could be just morphs and went on to take a few snaps of both. A couple of days after the trip, this difference in colour was still at the back of my mind. So I went ahead and did a little digging on the web (not the spiders’, but the Internet). That’s how I found that they were not just morphs but two different species of the genus Nephila. Nephila maculata and Nephila kuhlii Doleschall (courtesy: http://www.southindianspiders.org/).
Female Giant Wood Spiders (Nephila maculata) have a white carapace (upper front part) and a black abdomen with yellow longitudinal bands. Their legs are long, thin and black with yellow markings near the joints.
|A female Giant Wood Spider|
Female Black Wood Spiders (Nephila kuhlii Doleschall) have a black carapace and abdomen with thin, reddish-brown/orange and black legs.
|Female and male Black Wood Spiders|
Males of both species have the same colour — reddish-brown/orange and are much smaller than the females. The male of the black wood spider can be seen in the above picture, perched on top of the female.
Speaking of sexes, male and female spiders are not exactly the ‘lovey-dovey’ type. Sexual cannibalism is very common among spiders; that is, the female ends up feeding on the male soon after mating or, in some cases, even before he mates with her. In the case of the giant and the black wood spiders, the males always linger around the female, usually at the edge of her web, waiting for the right opportunity. He gets just enough time to approach, entice and mate with her and make a hasty retreat or risk becoming one of her meals (check out “Safer sex with feeding females: sexual conflict in a cannibalistic spider” at http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org/).
Here, among the tiny giants, are the dwarfs — the males among the females!