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Friday, Sept. 14, 2001
Golden orb spider
By ROWAN HOOPER
* Japanese name:Joro gumo * Scientific name:Nephila clavata * Description: This spider has a huge yellow-gray abdomen, yellow- and black-striped legs and a bright red patch near the tip of the abdomen. The body is 20-30 mm long. It spins a large orb web with several support strands. One of the support lines is for garbage, where the undigestible remains of meals are dumped. The web often has a golden sheen, hence the English name. * Where to find them: In gardens and parks on bushes and trees from summer onward. The large spider hanging vertically in the middle of the web is the female. Look carefully around the edges of the web and you will find several smaller spiders: These are the males. Females lay eggs on the trunks of trees, on buildings and under leaves. The eggs are dormant throughout winter and hatch in May. Adults die at the beginning of winter. * Food: Flies, moths, dragonflies and other winged insects that blunder into the web. Females have another, more sinister item on their menus . . . * Special features: Sexual cannibalism. Preliminaries to sex are elaborate and cautious. Males try to signal to the female that they are a male spider and not prey, by drumming on the web. Nevertheless, males run a considerable risk of being attacked and devoured by the larger female. Sexual activity requires that the male first deposits a blob of sperm on a strand of web. The male then picks up the sperm with the palps near his mouth and attempts to introduce it into the female. If he is lucky, this is achieved and his sperm stored to fertilize the female's eggs. If he is really lucky, he gets away before he is killed and eaten.
Cannibalism: When an animal eats a member of the same species, it is called cannibalism.