Magazine article Natural History

Significant Other

Magazine article Natural History

Significant Other

Article excerpt

Rounding a bend at the edge of a dense forest on a recent visit to northeastern Australia's Daintree National Park, my face was suddenly within inches of a giant golden orb weaver spider (Nephila pilipes), stretched out in the center of her huge web. Startled by the spider's unexpected appearance, her large size, and her shocking proximity to my eyelashes, I jumped back a step. I quickly regained my composure and began photographing. Afterward, I measured the spider with a tape that I carry for snakes: a body length of twoand- a-quarter inches and a leg-spread of seven-and-a-half inches!

Daintree's rainforest-one of the oldest in existence-lies within a diverse, densely forested part of Australia. It is the realm of some of the country's iconic creatures: kangaroos, wallabies, pademelons (also marsupials), platypuses, huge lace monitor lizards, forest dragons, saltwater crocodiles, and about 430 species of birds, including the formidable cassowary, whose aggressive behavior and deadly kick have earned it the reputation of the "world's most dangerous bird."

As a lifelong arachnid enthusiast, however, my adrenalin level spiked when I encountered some of the spiders for which Australia is famous: trapdoor spiders, "bird-eating" tarantulas, big huntsman spiders, colorful jewel spiders, and the notorious funnel- web spiders. Most thrilling of all was the moment when I came face-toface with the giant golden orb weaver spider [see photographs above]. This species, perhaps the world's largest web-making spider, has been known to capture small birds in its unbelievably strong web-a yellowish silk that has been used by some native people to make fishing nets. …

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