When picturing a banana spider, you almost certainly envision a female. Twelve times the size of the males of the species, female orb weavers can grow up to 3 inches in length, not including their legs. Though not quite as massive and terrifying as the Carolina wolf spider, the golden silk orb weaver, better known as the banana spider, is among the largest spiders in the United States.
Spinning a web made of silk stronger than Kevlar, the fiber used to make bulletproof vests, female banana spiders reach their maximum size at around a year of age. At this point, they’re nearing their last molt and ready to mate.
“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, a representative of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, explained to Newsweek.
“When [banana spiders] 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.”
Banana Spiders’ Mating Season is Particularly Brutal
Unlike other wildlife, there’s nothing romantic or endearing about banana spider mating. First, a male will choose the female with which he wants to procreate. After mating, the female will spin two or more egg sacs, each holding hundreds of eggs. More often than not, she’ll then eat her mate.
“Sometimes [the male] will fall prey to his wife,” Gauldin explained. “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. [There], he can be in close proximity to her body but still have the protection of the web between them.”
With her mate eaten and her babies growing in their egg sacs, the female banana spider then dies herself. Females are only receptive to mating for about 48 hours after molting for the final time and reaching the end of their life cycle.
“She will die when the weather turns cold,” Gauldin said. “And [her] eggs will overwinter and then hatch out in late winter/early spring.”
Despite their absolutely brutal mating rituals and horrifying appearance, female banana spiders are virtually harmless. Though they can bite when threatened, their venom isn’t toxic 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.”