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The stuff of dreams

March 24, 2013

Isn’t it fascinating that the same thing can be the subject of one person’s worst nightmares, and another person’s wildest dreams and desires? Nothing illustrates this point better than the Golden orb spiders (Nephila), which my wife doesn’t even call spiders – they are simply her Nemesis, clearly intent on luring her into their enormous webs and tangling themselves into her hair.

Photo: Banded-legged golden orb weaver 


But today I had the pleasure of going into the field with two great arachnologists, Matjaž Kuntner and Ingi Agnarsson, who came to Mozambique with one dream and one dream only – to see and catch the largest orb weaving spider in the world, Nephila komaci. This species was discovered by Matjaž a few years ago among old museum specimens, but nobody has seen a live individual since. But there is an interesting twist to this story – the reason Matjaž and Ingi chose Gorongosa to look for this Holy Grail of arachnology was a small photo, a thumbnail really, of N. komacithat had appeared on the old Gorongosa’s website five years ago, two years before the species was officially described. We didn’t know where exactly the photo had been taken, but it had to be somewhere in the park.


We set out early in the morning to look for the elusive weaver, hoping that we might find it in the patches of sand forest in the southern part of the park. Alas, after several ours of trampling through the bush we came back empty handed, not in small part because of some confusion as to where the forest was, which made us end up miles away from our intended destination. But playing bait for lions for several hours this morning was not a complete loss, either. The spider men found a few interesting species, including a related species, the Banded-legged golden orb weaver (Nephila senegalensis). These are gorgeous beasts, huge and beautifully colored. Their orbs are often made of brightly yellow silk, hence the common name. A few years ago Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley used the silk of a related species from Madagascar to weave an extraordinary golden cape.


Tomorrow Matjaž and Ingi will continue their search, this time with a GPS and an even stronger desire to lay their hands on the dreamy arachnid.


By Piotr Naskrecki


Read more on his blog The Smaller Majority


Bush Diaries