The argiope spider (Argiope aurantia) is a common spider throughout much of North America. Other common names for this spider include: the garden spider, the writing spider, the zig-zag spider, and the zipper spider. In many areas, they are a familiar resident of backyards and gardens.
Female agriope spiders are easily recognizable. They are fairly large spiders (half an inch to an inch in size, not including their legs) with distinct bright yellow and black markings on the body. Despite their size, they are not aggressive towards people. If provoked, they will often drop from their webs in an attempt to hide. Males are smaller, skinnier, and lack the vivid markings of the females. They are easily overlooked because they aren’t as large or flashy as the females.
Another key feature for identifying female agriope spiders is by their webs. Female agriope spiders build large, circular webs that have a central zig-zag or zipper pattern. The zig-zag pattern on a mature female’s web will be linear in shape, while the pattern on an immature female’s web will be larger and more oval in shape. The zig-zag area is called a stabilimentum and, although there are several hypotheses, no one is really sure exactly why the spiders build it.
Male agriope spiders build much smaller webs next to or within the outer edge of a female’s web. A male agriope spider will gently pluck the strands of a female’s web to invite her to mate. Although the male agriope spiders die shortly after mating, the females may live up to a year. After mating, the female agriope spider may make up to four brown egg sacks that she will hang on the web. In more temperate locations, the eggs will often hatch in the fall, but the spiderlings will stay in the egg sack until spring.
Female agriope spiders usually build their webs in tall grass or vegetation where it is semi-protected from winds but still open enough to catch prey. However, they will also sometimes build their webs along the sides of houses or in front of windows. As long as the web is catching plenty of prey and isn’t getting torn down very often, she will maintain the web in the same location for the entire season. You can find agriope spiders and their webs anytime from spring until the first frosts, but I think they are easiest to find in late summer and early fall as some of the vegetation starts to die back.
Flies, bees, beetles, grasshoppers, katydids, and even dragonflies can become lunch if they get caught in an agriope spider’s web. Agriope spiders are generally considered beneficial to have around because they eat such a wide variety of insects, many of which can become pests in a garden. Having them in your garden also suggests that you have a functioning mini-ecosystem that includes both predators and prey.
This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.
Backyard Ecology: Creating Space for Pollinators and Wildlife
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I started Backyard Ecology as a way to share my love of exploring nature and learning about different plants and animals. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.