Enormous Spiders Prepare to Lay Their Eggs Across Southeast

One of America's largest spiders is preparing to lay its eggs across the Southeast.

After nearly a year of growing and molting, the palm-sized females of the golden silk orb weaver have reached their formidable maximum size.

"In a deciduous or swampy woodland in Alabama or the Southeast at this time of year, you're going to find large golden silk orb weavers about to enter the next stage of their life cycle," Marianne Gauldin, outreach coordinator for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, told Newsweek.

"These species are likely to be found in close proximity to humans, especially in areas of the southeast where people have their houses near a wood lot."

The bodies of the female golden silk orb weaver can grow up to three inches in length, not including their legs. Their tubular abdomen is usually bright orange with white specks and is curved like a banana, which explains why they are sometimes called the "banana spider." Their enormous orange legs are striated with brown bands and their golden, orb-shaped webs can be up to 3 feet in diameter.

Golden Silk Orbweaver eats Mediterranean House Gecko
Photo of a golden silk orb weaver eating a Mediterranean house gecko. The spiders grow to be about the size of the palm of a hand. Marianne Gauldin

"When they hatch out in early spring they are very tiny," Gauldin said. "They spend all the spring months and early summer months growing and molting. And right about now, October, they've reached their full adult size and they are much more easy to notice."

While the females grow to the size of a hand, the males are usually only about the size of a fingernail. Mating can be a daunting task.

"Sometimes [the male] will fall prey to his wife," Gauldin said. "Other times he can be very smart and very sneaky about how he approaches her. He will typically hang out on the outskirts of her web, or sometimes even on the opposite side of the web, where he can be in close proximity to her body but still have the protection of the web between them."

After laying her eggs, the female wraps them in a leaf to hide them from hungry predators. "She will die when the weather turns cold, and those eggs will overwinter and then hatch out in late winter/early spring," Gauldin said.

female golden silk orbweaver in web
Stock image of a female golden silk orb weaver on her web in a forest. The spiders are found in woodland across the Southeast U.S. Carrie Hamilton/Getty

Despite their daunting appearance, these spiders are harmless to humans. "[Although] the spiders can bite...the venom that they have is not medically significant to humans," Gauldin said. "But it can [still] give quite a pinch. And of course, anyone could potentially have an allergic reaction, but that would be uncommon."

"They're not the kind of spider that would enter a home on purpose," she said. "However, because they build their webs [in trees] right about head height for humans, quite often they might accidentally hitch a ride. So you might have one on your hat, you might have one on your back, and then they take you by surprise when they dismount in your home."

While you might not want one in your house, these harmless animals perform a great service to gardeners by catching insect pests. They are also an important food source for many species of birds.

"One thing to be mindful of if you see one of these golden silk spiders is it's nearing the end of its life," Gauldin said. "If you find one in your house...she's not there on purpose. She just wants to be put back outside."