Monday, 4 February 2013

Re- discovery of the Largest Orbweaving Spider Species with Bhejane Nature Training

By: Hanroe Taljaard

The Bhejane Nature Training camp is full of excitement and action as the students arrived this month to continue, or begin their Nature Guiding qualifications for 2013. We welcome both our “Impi’s” as they continue into their second year of their 3 year Advanced Nature Guiding Course, as well as the students beginning their first year of Advanced Nature Guiding. All students are full of enthusiasm for the year that lies ahead.

Early last week we had a great discovery. During one of our Frogging practical’s, Ryan Tippett, one of the lead instructors at Bhejane Nature Training came across a giant Orb Web Spider and immediately recognized that this is not like any other known species of Orb Web Spider. After taking a few photos and doing some internet research, we came across Dr. Matjaz Kuntner’s research abstract published in October 2009 when the species was rediscovered and its status as a valid extant species confirmed

 Left: Nephila komaci, Female paratype as sketched by Matjaz Kuntner in his research abstract published in 2009.
Right:  Picture of first recorded sighting of N. komaci on the Bhejane Nature Training property
The first specimen of this spider was collected in 1978 at Sodwana Bay and was discovered in 2000 in the collections from Pretoria. Two expeditions to find this species in the wild were unsuccessful and it was thought that the species was a hybrid or perhaps extinct. In 2003 a second specimen from Madagascar was discovered in a Viennese Museum but since then they had failed to find any records of it in more than 2500 samples from 37 museums. However, two additional females and a male were recently collected in Tembe Elephant Park and it was clear that N. komaci was a valid, new existing Nephila species.

Photographs of the spider were e-mailed to Dr. Matjaz Kuntner on Saturday morning and he has confirmed that this is indeed the first recorded sighting of N. komaci (Komaci’s Orb Spider). He has also confirmed that the photographs taken are in fact the first photographs of live specimens, although there are photos of a spider in Gorongoza NP which he plans to go and see later in the year. Dr. Kuntner was very excited and requested that we keep a specimen that can be sent to him for examination.

Picture taken on Bhejane property of what we believe is the male N. komaci as he sits above the huge female in the web
Very distinctive coloration on N. komaci as depicted in this picture from a specimen on Bhejane property.

Since making the confirmation of the sighting public, reports of more N. komaci sightings have been called in. We have counted a total of 5 different specimens on the Bhejane property and another 5 on Makhasa Game Reserve. We have also received reports of this species on other properties in the surrounding area. 

Picture of one of five N. komaci specimens found and photographed on Makhasa Game Reserve on Saturday afternoon.
This is a wider shot of the picture above. This particular N. komaci web was about 8m high, where all the previous specimens' webs were spun about 3-5m from the ground.

We at Bhejane are very excited about the discovery and look forward to Dr. Kuntners’ results as he and his colleagues can now go ahead and complete their studies on ‘The Evolution of Gigantism in Nephila.’  Dr. Kuntners research abstract is available to read at 

Screen shot of the first half of page one of Matjaz Kuntner and Jonathan A. Coddington that released this research paper in 2009. Go to to view
The small 'silvery' spiders that we found present in the web are kleptoparasites from the family Theridiidae, who live in the webs of the big hosts. "They come in various shapes and color (silver and reddish ones are probably different genera, and there could be undescribed species," commented Dr. Matjaz Kuntner on this image.

 We are now in the process of collecting some of these specimens for Dr. Kuntner; label them precisely with locality, date and collector where he can use this information to recheck taxonomic diagnostics, measure them, and also extract their DNA to get an idea of genetic picture, e.g. if they are all very homogeneous implying population bottlenecks etc.

An exciting year lies ahead for the staff and students of Bhejane Nature Training. Follow our Facebook page and Blog Spot to keep up to date with our field news and to follow the story of this discovery.


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