The Fascinating Black-and-Yellow Garden Spider
Ro Wauer, July 20, 2003, The Victoria Advocate, © 2003
There is hardly a yard in South Texas in summer that does not possess one or several garden spiders, often called the "black-and-yellow garden spider." Scientists have named it Argiope aurantia.
Among the largest and showiest of spiders, the adult black-and-yellow garden spider possesses an inch-long black abdomen with yellow or orange markings. The front part of the body is generally gray above and yellow below, and its eight legs are long and velvety. But this spider is most notable because of the huge web the female spins between all types of structures, from trees and branches to sheds and barbecue pits.
Garden spider webs, usually 3 or 4 feet in diameter but occasionally up to 8 feet across, are surprisingly strong and flexible. It is said that spider silk is the strongest natural fiber known, that even steel drawn out to the same diameter is not as strong. The strong silk threads from garden spiders were once used as crosshairs in telescopes and other fine optical instruments. I can attest to its strength; mowing or watering the lawn, I will occasionally crash into one of these webs, and it takes several tries to remove the webbing from my arms and face. A damaged web will usually be reconstructed during the evening hours.
Each garden spider web has a distinct zigzag band of white, sticky silk running vertically through the center. This white band may also help birds see the net so they do not fly into it. The garden spider, unlike many other spiders, does not have a nest but remains either in the center of the web, hanging head down, or hiding nearby. The movement of key strands of the web signal whenever prey becomes trapped and attempts to escape. The strength of the webbing suggests that it can capture and eat rather large prey, from a wide variety of insects to lizards and even hummingbirds. From observing the various webs in my yard, flies, small and large, are the spider's number one prey items, but I have also found wasps, grasshoppers, a dragonfly, and even a gecko lizard entangled.
Female garden spiders are considerably larger than the males and generally command the web; males construct smaller, less noticeable webs in less obvious locations. By fall, the females lay eggs in large pear-shaped cocoons with a brown paperlike surface, hung by threads among the trees and shrubs. The young hatch during the winter months but remain in the cocoon until spring. The adults usually die during the cooler winter months.
So goes the life and times of our lovely garden spider.