The black-and-yellow writing spider is a large and bold specimen, and quite shocking to encounter in the garden. What is their role in the garden? Are they venomous?
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This orb-weaver’s body can grow to the size of the diameter of a quarter, or even a bit larger. Once you’ve seen one in the garden, you’re likely to have them for a long time!
Let’s get the good news out of the way: They are very beneficial to the garden and are NOT poisonous to humans.
This means there’s no reason to kill or relocate these ladies away from the garden. In doing so, you weaken the ecology, the web of life in your garden that reduces your workload.
Garden Spider Habitat
The first time we saw these spiders was
5 8 years ago, on our honeymoon trip to Hawaii. We were awestruck by their size and beauty. We didn’t know what they were, and assumed that they were a tropical wonder. We named them ‘Zipper Spiders’ for the zipper-like finish down the center of the web.
Some people call it the ‘Writing Spider’ because it appears to be writing when it creates the zipper, or zigzag.
What a surprise for us then, when these spiders (Argiope aurantia) joined our ecosystem at Tenth Acre Farm in Ohio, in the same year that we took out the grass and installed our front yard garden. I suppose they prefer gardens over grass, like many other living beings in the ecosystem!
First we saw one or two of them in a patch of sedum flowers, but now their territory covers most of the front yard and this year has spread to the backyard.
The Spider Fear Factor
It seems most people have an aversion to spiders, as they do most insects. Fear seems to be the common first reaction that many people have upon seeing spiders.
However, with a desire for nature connection, we can seek to transform that first reaction from one of fear to one of wonder.
It’s important for adults to model this behavior for children, because this is when children learn to either have fear or have cautionary wonder.
This change in attitude and instinct about spiders comes only with education. The reason why we react with fear is because we can’t identify what the spider is, and we don’t know if it could hurt us or not.
When the adult has done the work to identify what poisonous spiders reside in the area, and can identify them easily, then running across a yellow garden spider is a really exciting thing, since no venomous spiders exist that look anything like it. Then there’s no reason to be afraid!
Incidentally, there are only two dangerously venomous spiders in my area—the brown recluse and the black widow. Luckily neither of them look anything like the garden spider. On a similar note, there’s only one venomous snake in my area—the northern copperhead—whose bites are rarely fatal (more like a bee sting), according to this field guide by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Not that I’m going to go out looking for one and try to cuddle it. 🙂
Education is the primary source for getting over a fear of spiders. Most of us have never given a thought to what a spider’s purpose is. Some view spiders as just another insect, and especially don’t appreciate seeing them in their house.
Luckily the yellow orb-weaver spider will never be found in your house. But on that note, if you are especially fearful of insects in the house, killing indoor spiders is a sure-fire way to have MORE insects!
Spiders are hunting predators, and will keep your house free of any of the creepy-crawlies that breed quickly and take over the house. If you have spiders, then there are enough prey insects to keep them fed–all the more reason to keep spiders around.
I have a rule that spiders can live in the house as long as they stay on the perimeter. If they seem to be crossing rooms and spaces that I traverse regularly, then I will get out our handy bug catcher-transporter, and put the spider outside; NO KILLING NECESSARY.
Black-and-Yellow Garden Spider Webs
The large yellow spider is the female. She builds a complex web, usually overnight, that can take the entire night to build.
These spiders are active in late summer and through autumn, and their webs are commonly portrayed in Halloween decorations. Sometimes we don’t think about why we have certain traditions!
These orb-weavers (orb meaning round) produce webs with wheels and spokes. The spokes are non-sticky and used for walking, while the round “wheels” are sticky and for catching prey.
Garden Spider Diet
What does our garden friend eat? All manner of flying—or hopping—insects that cross her path: flies, bees, wasps, mosquitoes, aphids, moths, beetles.
I even watched one catch a grasshopper who was hopping through the currant bushes and—wham! She got it. Took her an entire night to eat it!
Garden spiders instantly inject their prey with a venom and wrap it up like a mummy. She will wait for the venom to pre-digest the food before she begins to eat.
My theory is that they are yellow-and-black camouflage because they truly like bumble bees the best. It seems that way in our garden, anyway. Most predators are carnivores and will not distinguish between what you think are good and bad insects, but as long as you keep providing food and habitat for the beneficial insects, nature will balance things out in the end.
Garden Spider Reproduction
The males are much smaller and build smaller webs near, or connected to, the female’s web. Once they mate, the male usually dies.
The female will create a roundish, papery-brown egg sac, which contains 300-1,400 eggs. The eggs usually hatch in autumn, but remain dormant in the sac until the following spring. So if you see one of these, don’t disturb!
Check out this site for more information about Argiope aurantia, and to see pictures of the males and baby spiderlings. The babies are fun to find in the springtime when they emerge from the brown egg sac!
Here’s a video I took of the orb-weaver putting the finishing touches on the “zipper” of his web in our currant bushes, like it’s doing needlepoint:
Looking for a field guide to bring along on outdoor trips?
Have you found the yellow-and-black garden spider in your garden?