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Scientists Discover Largest Orb-weaving Spider

Scientists Discover Largest Orb-weaving Spider

Researchers from the United States and Slovenia have discovered a new, giant Nephila species (golden orb weaver spider) from Africa and Madagascar.

The findings are published in the Oct. 21 issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

Matjaz Kuntner, chair of the Institute of Biology of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts and a Smithsonian research associate, along with Jonathan Coddington, senior scientist and curator of arachnids and myriapods in the Department of Entomology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, also reconstructed size evolution in the family Nephilidae to show that this new species, on average, is the largest orb weaver known.

Only the females are giants with a body length of 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) and a leg span of 4-5 inches (10-12 centimeters); the males are tiny by comparison.

More than 41,000 spider species are known to science with about 400-500 new species added each year. But for some well-known groups, such as the giant golden orb weavers, the last valid described species dates back to the 19th century.

Nephila spiders are renowned for being the largest web-spinning spiders. They make the largest orb webs, which often exceed 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter. They are also model organisms for the study of extreme sexual size dimorphism and sexual biology.

Giant golden orb weavers are common throughout the tropics and subtropics. Thousands of Nephila specimens that have been collected are in natural history museums.

Past taxonomists collectively recognized 150 distinct Nephila species, but in his doctoral thesis, Kuntner recognized only 15 species as valid. Linnaeus described the first Nephila species in 1767, and Karsch described the last genuinely new Nephila in 1879. All more recent descriptions turned out to be synonyms.

Golden orb-web

"This photo shows a giant golden orb-web exceeding 1 meter in diameter: Nephila inaurata, Rodrigues, Indian Ocean. (Credit: Photo M. Kuntner)"

Source: Smithsonian

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