Web-weaving Wonders

Here, in the Lowcountry, we are “fortunate” to have two of the largest web-building spiders in the United States.  The black and yellow argiope (Argiope aurantia), or writing spider as it is sometimes called, is a large, black and yellow spider that builds an orb-shaped web with a zigzag of heavy silk in the center, called a stabilimenta (it was thought this structure stabilized the web, instead, it is thought to deter birds from flying through the web).  The female sits in the middle of the web, head down, with legs paired, waiting for an unsuspecting insect to become ensnared in her sticky trap.  When a struggling insect is detected, she quickly runs over the web, grabs the insect, whips silk over the critter, spinning the critter and silk until she has the prey immobilized, and then delivers a paralyzing bite that euthanizes the prey and dissolves its insides for the spider to suck up as a delicious insect milkshake!

The largest orb weaver is the golden-silk spider (Nephila clavipes), or banana spider.  It’s a large golden brown spider with tufted leg joints that can reach up to 4 inches in size and spin a web that spans over 4 feet!  The webbing has a golden yellow hue to it (hence, the name) and is quite strong.  Strong enough, in fact, to be used by the indigenous people for clothing, string, etc.  This large spider feeds on insects caught in the web similar to the writing spider, but instead of wrapping them up in silk immediately, the deliver the bite first, which results in them capturing and subduing smaller insects.

Both spiders, to me, are pretty high on the scary scale, but are actually quite beautiful and amazing.  They are a necessary and effective insect predator and should be welcome in any garden.  As true with all spiders, they can deliver a venomous bite if handled, so they deserve respect.  Even though the bite is painful, it is not fatal.

Nature Notes by Marvin Bouknight
Nature Nook Photography


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