I know. I’ve heard it said a bazillion times, “The only good spider is a dead spider”. Most people fear spiders or at the very least, dislike them. Is it because they surprise us with their beautiful but sticky webs? Or is it because, as Greg says, spiders are sneaky? Are we afraid they will hurt us by biting us? Perhaps we hate spiders because we don’t understand them.
Whatever the reason for our qualms, I felt inspired to introduce the Yellow Garden Spider that I encountered earlier this evening, and share her story. My hope is that rather than scream and find a shoe to smash with, we might allow the humble spider to live and grow in our esteem. At the very least I hope to lessen the fear of these industrious and beneficial allies. This gorgeous specimen definitely falls into the spiders that are good to have around category.
All good introductions begin with a name. This big beauty, called Argiope aurantia, is commonly known as the yellow garden spider, black and yellow garden spider, golden garden spider, writing spider, corn spider, or McKinley spider. The Latin name, Argiope aurantia, means “gilded silver face”.
This species of spider can be found in Canada, the lower 48 states, Hawaii, Mexico and Central America, and as the nicknames imply, it prefers gardens as its habitat. As with many spiders, the female, who ranges in size from 3/4 of an inch to 1 1/2 inches, is much larger than the male, 1/4 to 1/3 of an inch full grown.
The Yellow Garden Spider is an orb weaver, meaning she spins her circular web, usually overnight. The unique zigzag down the middle of the web, which can have a span of two feet, is a signature design. Opinions vary on the purpose of the zigzag. Some speculate that it offers camouflage for the spider, some that it attracts insects and others suggest that the design keeps birds from flying into the web and destroying it. If only people understood the “look out” warning!
This non aggressive garden ally is not poisonous to humans although her bite paralyzes prey when they become tangled in her web. After injecting venom, the Yellow Garden Spider wraps her meal in silken strands for later consumption. These spiders are beneficial to the garden and to humans because they trap and feed on aphids, flies, gnats and mosquitoes.
I spied this gorgeous lady as I dropped off a friend at her home in rural Aurora. As I carried items into the house, the web with the characteristic zigzag caught my attention first, and then I spied the occupant. I noted that her legs, all eight of them, appeared to be clad in black silk stockings. I was so captivated by her beauty that I had to snap a few photos.
Unlike most people I know, I love spiders. Missouri only has two poisonous species of spiders, the brown recluse and the black widow. I avoid those two, however all spiders fascinate me. As a child I talked to spiders and tossed flies into their webs so I could observe their arachnid behavior. As an adult, I still talk to them.
Today I crooned to the garden spider and told her how magnificent she was. She had caught an insect and as I talked to her, she busily spun a cocoon around her catch, unconcerned with my nearness. I leaned in closer, and I swear that she hummed happily as she worked, a little Pooh song I imagine. She never acknowledged me, unless her song was for my pleasure, and yet she did not hide from me either. I’m glad we connected.
The next time you see the Yellow Garden Spider, say a quiet hello and then leave her alone. She’s a friend and a helper. She’s one of the spiders that are good to have around.