There is a dearth of information about these social spiders (Stegodyphus dumicola) on the Internet. Asking about them at the reception counters of some national parks is a waste of time as one comes up against blank faces of incomprehension. Yet, the large untidy webs – often mistakenly referred to by tourists as ‘nests’ – are very obvious in places such as the Kruger National Park, the Mountain Zebra National Park and in the Addo Elephant National Park.
The average tourist cannot get close enough to the nests to observe them closely – hence the wonderment at what might have made these enormous webs featuring tunnels and chambers attached to branches. One conglomerate web often appears to be connected to another lower down, or even on a nearby bush.
On closer inspection, even from one’s vehicle, it is clear that these large webs have been spun with cribellate silk which is produced from numerous tiny silk glands underneath a specialized spinning organ called the cribellum. A lot of dried leaves and other debris, including the remains of creatures caught in the web – beetles and flies for example – is caught up in the web and helps to create their rather shaggy appearance.
Apparently all the spiders combine their efforts both to catch their prey and to maintain the web. Their webs remind me of those enormous nests built by the Sociable Weavers, such as this one in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Some useful sites to visit on the Internet: