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, Â 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!â€Â 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.