Austracantha minax – A Spiderly Seasons Greeting

Austracantha minax aka Christmas Spider or Jewel Spider
Austracantha minax aka Christmas Spider, Jewel Spider

Austracantha minax aka Christmas Spider, Jewel Spider, Six-spined Spider, Spiny Spider
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Arachnida
Order: Araneae
Suborder: Araneomorphae
Family: Araneidae
Mount Barker (Longleat Property), South Australia – December 9th, 2014 – in garden

Photos & Text: Karin Dawson
Austracantha minax (commonly known as the Christmas Spider – also Jewel Spider, Six-spined Spider or Spiny Spider) is a particularly colourful species of orb weaver endemic to Australia, and can be found all over the continent. Formerly Gasteracantha minax, this beautiful spider is most abundant during the summer months leading up to Christmas – hence its name.

These very timid spiders are relatively small – the females grow up to 12 mm, males only 5 mm. These heavily armoured spiders are a shiny black with variable white, yellow and orange patterns, and six distinctive spines protruding their abdomen.

These social spiders can be found in large communal aggregations of overlapping orb webs, and unlike other orb weavers, they do not destroy their webs at dawn.

Interestingly, any female Austracantha minax born later in the summer season is completely black (melanic) though they are the same shape are their colourful counterparts. The reason for this is unknown.

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