Hanna’s Web: My Garden Spider Resident

My garden has a new resident and I am tickled green (because it would be silly for a gardener to be tickled pink). A garden spider has seen fit to build her sturdy web in a patch of weeds in the middle of my flower bed. I will overlook the fact that I only found her because I had planned on removing said weeds and now the weeds must stay for her sake. That’s ok. I’ll deal. It is not often you find a garden spider in your garden. I have not seen one since I was a child, when every summer a garden spider would take up residence outside the kitchen window. My mother would point her out and we would watch her with great fascination.

I know that there is a segment of the population that has certain prejudices towards the arachnid family, but this is not an ordinary spider. This is a special spider. This is a garden spider. And when I read the classic Charlotte’s Web, in my mind Charlotte is a garden spider. She had to be, because garden spiders are just like Charlotte. They are loyal and beautiful and make the most wondrous webs.

Garden spiders are also known as writing spiders, though their fancy schmancy name is Argiope aurantia.   They are called a writing spider because their webs always contain a strip of thickly woven web down the center that looks as though the spider was practicing her Zs.   This strip is called the stabilimentum.   The reason for this strip of web is uncertain, though it is theorized that it may be as a visual stop sign for birds to keep them from flying into the webs or to attract bugs to the web who might think it is a safe solid place to land.   I suppose the second theory might be true and if it is, you could kind of thing of that as nature’s way of cleaning out the stupid bugs as I am not sure why a bug would think a spot in the middle of a web would be any safer than the outside of the web.

You may have noticed that I keep referring to my garden spider as a she and you may have been asking how I know that it is a female. And perhaps a bizarre image of me sneaking up and lifting the spider’s skirts to check came to mind (and if it did not before, it comes to mind now, doesn’t it?), but no. I know she is a she because all garden spiders you see are likely to be female.   The females are huge, with bodies (not including the legs) that can be an inch or more in length. The males, on the other hand, are often only 1/2 of an inch or smaller.   The female of the species is a loyal homebody. Once she finds a place she likes, she builds a web and often stays there for the rest of her life.   While the males wander, looking for mates and a sex driven death, and rarely make webs. So, if you see a garden spider, A) it was big enough to see,  B) it likely is in a web and C) it is still alive — ergo, it is a female.

Garden spiders can be recognized by their distinctive black and yellow markings. And, for as scary as she may look, a garden spider is much like many spiders. If you don’t bother her, she won’t bother with you. Meaning, yes, they can bite, but only if you touch her first.

She lives about a year, but once a garden spider takes up residence in a spot, normally one of her children will replace her in that spot in subsequent years, so your garden will never be without her beauty again.

She is a tidy spider as well. Every evening she will take her web down and eat it and then will rebuild it the next day.   They also have a unique habit of bouncing their web if they feel the web is threatened. Again, it is not known why they do this, but it is thought that it may be a way for the spider to draw attention to itself, as in to say “My web is here, dumbass. Don’t be clumsy and knock down my home!”  I accidentally triggered this reaction while gently moving some weeds so I could show my neighbor the spider and it was odd to see.   It is like watching the spider suddenly turn her web into a big trampoline swing.

But my garden spider has nothing to fear from me.   I won’t knock down her web.   I have take steps to protect her, such as leaving the weed patch intact and forbidding my budding entomologist of a son from collecting her into one of his dozens of bug jars that are now scattered around my home.   Now instead, he sits watching her for hours on end (or emptying the contents of one of his bug jars onto her web), reminding me of myself when I was his age. It almost makes me want to run out and get a runty piglet to place back there as well.

14 thoughts on “Hanna’s Web: My Garden Spider Resident
  1. We have these in Kansas as well; gives one some sense of piece, except when you accidentally walk through the web early in the morning.

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  2. I love your site! I was not aware that seeing a garden spider is unusual! I had one, one year, that I too just marveled over. She was incredible. She was still there around Halloween, so we took a picture at dusk and it picked up just the spider, not the web. It was so cool and the perfect Halloween picture. I have not had one since, and trust me, I search every year! So, the fact that is it unusual gives me faith that it wasn’t something I said or did to run them off!

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  3. Susan Helms on

    I noticed one in my garden just this week. Our variety seems to be nocturnal and build huge orb webs that are gone by morning. Ours are not yellow and black but a beautiful gold and deep amber color. When I start seeing them in my garden ,I know Fall is not too far away.

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  4. Katherine on

    You can have some from the Carolinas. We have far more than our fair share. I get between 3 and 5 a year and that’s just MY yard. Glad you appreciate them because they make me batty. :)

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  5. I had a spider living in the back of my truck, I do not know what species. Each morning there would be a fresh web between the tailgate and the top of the cap, the back window was missing. While that, in it self is cool, the really cool part came when I drove to Florida to visit my son. I left the motel the first morning, after driving from New York, imagine my surprise when I saw the fresh web. She rode all the way with me, and then made the trip home!

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  6. Suzanne on

    Years ago I had these beautiful spiders in my garden. The children took mom’s spot the next year. Suddenly, one summer, no garden spider. I garden organically so I have no idea what caused them to disappear. I miss them, but don’t know how to get them back.

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  7. Silverdragon on

    Spiders in my house creep me out, but for some reason the ones outside don’t bother me. I think the last time I saw a garden spider was about two years ago. I have tons of wolf spiders in my garden beds near the house and I just shoo them out of the way when I weed. The only exception I make is to the spiders that hang out on my siding. They are orb weavers of some sort but the reason I go after them is they poo all over the siding, and since spider poo is nearly pure protein it’s a royal pain to get off. Even then I don’t spray pesticides willy-nilly. I got a peppermint oil based spray and use it only on the spiders on the siding (if they’re hanging out on the eaves, gutter or between the porch posts I leave them alone).

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  8. Had to throw my 2 cents in: yuck! Felt that arachnophobes were being sorely underrepresented! A pretty spider, but still…yuck! Just looking at the picture creeps me out…

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  9. I’m in San Diego and get these all the time! I have always wondered if they are poisoness but make sure to keep the kids at a distance. Sure are pretty though

    Scott
    http://wiltedleaf.com

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  10. Cynthia on

    I had a garden spider outside of my kitchen window just this past 3 months… She was absolutely beautiful!!!!!!! I talked about her to my co workers as if she was a pet of my family. My kids and I would watch her everyday take down her web and put it back up.. One of the most incredible things to watch ever. I am sad today though because she is gone. I think she may have passed…. But I did find 2 egg sacks hanging from the inner gutter on the house. So hopefully I will have another addition to my house next year. But I will never forget her! I can’t wait till next summer to watch another…

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  11. I recently saw one of these exotic-looking black/yellow guys and was surprised to find out that it’s a very common garden spider. Beautiful little beast.

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  12. That is one scary looking spider !!
    Best to keep it in your garden (please).
    I hope they don’t come over to Botanic Bay, however good at eating bugs they are. I would scream!
    Céline

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  13. A really nice picture of a welcomed garden tenant. We have these type of garden spiders on occasion, but more commonly we have the large golden orb weavers or banana spiders down here in the deep south. Some years there will be 100’s of them all in the trees and shrubs with their large 6 ft. wide webs. They are the only spiders that I have seen, that able to catch and subdue the large Japanese beetles.

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