Scientific Name: Argiope aurantia
Description: Garden spiders are large, orb-weaving arachnids, meaning that they spin a circular web. Most spiders have two claws on each foot, but orb-weavers have an additional claw to help them spin their complex webs. In females, the top side of the abdomen is black with symmetrical patches of bright yellow. The legs are reddish brown at the base and black toward the tips. Males are less striking in appearance—they are smaller with brownish legs and less yellow coloration on their abdomens.
Size: Females average 19 to 28 mm in body length, which is up to three times larger than the males.
Diet: These spiders produce venom that is harmless to humans, but helps to immobilize prey items like flies, bees, and other flying insects that are caught in the web. The web of the garden spider contains a highly visible zigzagging X pattern called a stabilimentum. The exact function of the stabilimentum is unknown, but its purpose may be to alert birds to the presence of the web so that they don’t fly through and destroy it by mistake. The spider may eat and re-spin its web each night.
Typical Lifespan: About a year. Females usually die in the first hard frost after mating. If temperatures prevent this, females may live several years, but males usually die after mating.
Habitat: Garden spiders spin webs in sunny areas with plants on which to anchor. You may be able to see them in a backyard garden.
Range: They can be found throughout the continental United States and Canada, Mexico, and Central America.
Life History and Reproduction: A male seeks out a female and courts her by plucking at her web. After mating, the female deposits one or multiple egg sacs on her web. Offspring hatch in late summer or autumn. If they’re in an area with a cold winter, the young spiders may remain in the egg sac in a dormant state and emerge in the spring. Egg cases are heavily parasitized by wasps and flies.
Fun Fact: Sometimes the garden spider connects herself to the web by a thread of silk and hides in the underbrush. When an insect gets caught, vibrations of the web can be felt by the spider.
Conservation status: Stable
Encyclopedia of Life
University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web