Gardening: Return of the banana spiders | Columnists
The spiders are back.
It has been several years since we had so many banana spiders building intricate webs in our garden. The cheapest form of entertainment is to watch one of the Lowcountry’s greatest spiders show off her fine weaving skills. Right now a banana spider the size of a teacup is standing on our porch. Most mornings I spend a few minutes watching her fix her network and, if I’m lucky, grab something to eat.
The banana spider is an orb weaver known for building circular webs. At this time of year you need to be aware of where you are going. If you look at the floor, you could be face to face with an eight-legged monster. That’s when you see a gardener performing new dance moves.
All spiders have eight legs and fangs. That description alone is enough to give most people goose bumps. Not all spiders use straps to catch prey, but ball weavers build or repair their “dartboard” webs on a daily basis. Silk is made from liquid protein that hardens with a tensile strength equivalent to that of steel. The golden silk ball weaver, also known as the banana spider, is easiest to spot in the Lowcountry.
The banana spider weaves threads of yellow or gold silk. Some suggest the paint helps the camouflage effect in the shade, which is more effective at catching insects and distracted homeowners. The female is the big and dangerous looking spider. It’s usually in the middle of the web. She allows the male banana spider, not even half the size, to hang around in her web to feed on her leftovers.
Her web is an elaborate construction of circles that she repairs daily to keep the threads fresh and sticky. Another great orb weaver, the black and yellow garden spider, builds a similar web with a zigzag seam near the center. Another common Orb Weaver is the Spinybacked Orb Weaver Spider. It’s about the size of a dime and looks like a cross between a crab and a spider.
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During my morning observations, I watch the banana spider pluck debris like leaves and petals from its web. She will use up some of the old threads before spinning new ones. Some orb weavers rebuild the entire web on a daily basis. Other ball weavers spin silk that contains ant repellants to deter scavengers from invading their web. Orb weavers even spin webs made of sticky and non-sticky threads. So the lady of the web cannot get tangled up.
Prey rarely escapes once it falls into the death trap. When you actually see it, that is happiness. I just made that up, but it sounds good. However, your web is a good source of palmetto bugs. Instead of crushing them, toss them into the web and the banana spider will grant you three wishes.
A female banana spider attacks her prey. Tony Bertauski / Provided
A banana spider is very sensitive to vibrations. It sits in the middle of the net and points downwards. Just pluck one of the threads and watch it come into place. Even air vibrations can signal an approaching predator. When prey hits the net, it attacks. Her vision is poor, so she uses the vibrations to locate the unfortunate insect. She will paralyze the prey and wrap it in silk. I threw black ants into the net, watched them mummify their prey and hang them on a thread like a creepy ornament. Once the prey is dead, it vomits up pre-digestive juices to liquefy the body. What she cannot eat she throws out of the net like a fallen leaf.
Apart from allergic reactions, their poison does not threaten humans or pets. A bite, sources say, is similar to a bee sting. Banana spiders are not aggressive and only bite when you ask for them or when you walk through their webs. If a spider is building a web in your door or on the sidewalk, don’t kill it. Use a stick to give her a new home in a more acceptable location. There is no question that they are an asset to the environment.