Cathedral spiders build large complicated webs in trees and bushes. This species of spider is very common in the Maltese countryside and the webs are so large that they are difficult to miss once you know about it.
In the Maltese islands, as in other countries around the Mediterranean, the webs are built in prickly pear trees, hence the Maltese name brimba tal-pal tal-bajtar.
Very often several spiders build webs in close proximity to each other creating large colonial webs. It seems that building colonial webs gives the spiders advantages and helps them to better survive in their environment. Very often, colonies are made up of sister spiders which do not move away from the spot where they were hatched.
The webs are built by the female spiders. Males do not eat and die shortly after fertilising a female.
The cathedral spider is found around the Mediterranean and in parts of Africa and Asia.
It is also found in Australia and parts of the Americas. A female cathedral spider is between 10mm and 15mm long.
The male is much smaller, and usually is not larger than 3mm. The colour is variable but black and white is the most common pattern.
The presence of a colony of cathedral spiders can be beneficial to the trees and shrubs as their presence protects the tree from insect pests.
In some cases a heavy presence of spiders has resulted in the loss of leaves from a tree and, in exceptional cases, even in the death of a tree.
This does not seem to be a problem in Malta and the prickly pear trees on which one finds the colonies seem to do very well.
The cathedral spider belongs to the orb spider family. One member of this family, the lobed argiope, brimba kbira tal-widien in Maltese, can frequently be found in the Maltese countryside.
It is particularly fond of valleys and wooded areas, including gardens.
This article was published in The Times of Malta on 29 May 2013