Giant banana spiders are hanging out in a tree near you
By Susannah Bryan and Ariel Barkhurst Sun Sentinel
7:40 p.m. EDT, August 23, 2013
They are creepily large and spinning their webs in a park near you.
It is, after all, banana spider season.
During late summer, the ladies of this native spider grow bodies up to 2 inches long, not counting their legs, and weave webs as wide as 15 feet. Both genders love wooded areas with dense canopies, all the better to spin their webs.
They're hanging out in the tree branches along Surf Road in Hollywood and near the boardwalk at Atlantic Dunes Park in Delray Beach.
They're greeting kayakers who venture through mangrove trails throughout South Florida.
They're waiting, silently, for you to run across their path.
Fort Lauderdale resident Janine Babich spotted legions of banana spiders recently during a walk near Hollywood beach.
"My husband and I drive down to Hollywood sometimes to check out the cats," she said. "We went down on Sunday and we were treated to a new spectacle. It was just thick with them. We were amazed at the spectacle and thought it was neat."
Banana spiders, also known as the golden silk orb weaver, are more easily seen at this time of year because the females have gotten big enough for us to notice them, says Adrian Hunsberger, an entomologist and Urban Horticulture Agent for the University of Florida/IFAS Miami-Dade County Extension in Homestead.
"What's really cool about this spider, the silk has a golden color to it," Hunsberger said. "That's why it's called the golden orb weaver."
Don't let their size fool you. Banana spiders are harmless.
Their bite might hurt, but it won't kill you, say local biologists.
"I've heard it described as between a bee sting and a mosquito bite on pain level," said Callie Sharkey, naturalist at the Daggerwing Nature Center in Boca Raton.
The males are smaller and more inconspicuous, with bodies measuring no more than half an inch.
"People may think it's the baby," Hunsberger said. "But a lot of times, it's the guy hanging out."
The banana spider, in spite of its size, striking coloring and elaborate web, is a "relaxed" critter, Sharkey said.
"They're not aggressive spiders," she said. "Brown recluses and even crab spiders are going to be aggressive and bite you. Banana spiders are not prone to biting. You can go right through their webs, and they'll just look at you and make a new one that night."
Banana spiders will even share webs, she said, an unusual trait among spiders and another indication that they are not aggressive.
"The people who get bitten are usually trying to swat the animal away, and the spider is trying to protect itself," Hunsberger said. "The best thing to do is not panic."
Sharkey counts the banana spider as being among the coolest of arachnids.
"I love them," she said. "I'm not a spider-hugger, but they're pretty mellow, pretty cool spiders."
They're beneficial too, feasting as they do on mosquitoes and other small insects.
The fact that they're bigger means they can eat more mosquitoes and other insects that get trapped in their giant web, said Joanne Howes, a naturalist for the Anne Kolb Nature Center in Hollywood.
Looking to avoid them anyway?
Steer clear of wooded areas, especially those with dense canopies. Avoid hiking trails, and don't go out first thing in the morning. You may run into a parade of spiders touching up their webs.