Perhaps not our most cute and cuddly critter, but there is definitely a coolness and fascination factor to these spiders of enormous size that I couldn't pass up. I mean, I wouldn't want to find one in my house, but observing them in the preserve I think is pretty cool. Last Friday I was at the nature study pond with Paul and a local eagle scout surveying for a cattail removal service project that will allow visitors to actually see the pond! I found the first spider only moments after Paul reached down to grab a cattail, and as chance would have it there resting directly beneath the cattail was a coiled rattlesnake. Paul quickly pulled back and in the same moment we heard the agitated rattle fire off. I started cautiously poking around the cattails to determine whether or not the rattler fled the scene when my face came within inches of an enormous yellow and black spider. The nature study pond is sounding like a pleasant place to relax right? The spider was so big and my eyes came so close to it that I could see its face, I think one of its eight eyes actually winked at me. I stood up and took a look around the spot where I stood and found myself in a scene from Lord of the Rings. Every two or three feet between the thick cattails were spun large circular webs of radial rings spiraling toward a center point where lurked a huge spider.
Among the shrubs and plants of the American Parkway the web of the yellow argiope spider is a common sight found during late summer. The impressive looking specimens with the large yellow abdomen and image of a black alien face printed on the back are the females. It would appear that the nature study pond is an ideal location for these ladies to set up web, because they are some of the biggest I have seen. Their long crooked black and red banded legs span nearly 2 1/2 inches and their abdomen is literally the size of a large grape. The male argiope is much smaller and unimpressive by comparison. Males are brown in color and about 1/3 the size. Sometimes a female will allow a male to build a small web on the outer part of her web. I didn't see any males near these webs however, so maybe the females have no more use for them and have already devoured them. I don't know of a greater gap that exists in the sexual dimorphic power ratio between males and females of a class of animal than that of spiders!
The female will lay an egg sac near the start of fall, where the spiderlings will incubate through the winter.
Yellow argiope spiders are in the Araneidae family, also referred to as orb weavers. The orb weavers are the largest spiders found on earth, after tarantulas. They are known not only for their size, but also for their complex and beautiful circular web structures. Orb weavers produce the strongest silk of all arachnids. Typical prey that becomes trapped in their sticky web include small insects such as crickets, aphids, flies and bees. Judging the size of these particular spiders at the pond I'd say small birds better be careful too. Each night the argiope consumes the circular interior of the web and rebuilds it each morning with fresh silk. They do this to recycle the chemicals used in web building. The sticky web also has trapped tiny organic particles and minuscule insects that provide additional nutrition.
The yellow argiope's size can be pretty disturbing to someone that doesn't live in a jungle, but it might be of comfort to know that they are not aggressive. They're a garden spider that likes sunlight so don't worry, you shouldn't find them in your home. An argiope might bite if harassed, but their venom is rather harmless to humans.
I have taken photos which are attached below. I hope you enjoyed this blog entry and I will try to showcase a cuter critter next time! Also, I'm sorry if I ruined grapes for anyone.