Like many youngsters, I had a huge fear of spiders as a child, but through the years I’ve gotten braver and learned to appreciate spiders and the benefits of having them in the garden. I still scream if I run into a web but the neighbors no longer dash to my aid. They all know I simply had another close encounter with a spider.
September and October are the perfect months to discover more about the intriguing world of spiders and webs in our gardens. Step outside in the early morning while dew still covers the grass and be introduced to a silken wonderland of glistening webs festooning the grass, bushes, and trees in a variety of designs from tunnels to chaotic masses, to long threads connecting shrubs and trees, and to the ones that amaze me the most–the giant orb webs.
The spider that spins these magnificent orbs, Argiope aurantia, is said to spin the strongest web in the spider world. The highly visible female is the largest and most colorful spider in our Tidewater gardens. Her web spirals out from the center and can be 2 feet across with a telltale zigzag line in the center called a stabilimenta, the purpose of which is not completely understood.
The large yellow and black Argiope, aka Writing Spider, hangs head down in the center of her web. Although fierce looking, she is benign. If disturbed, she will either drop from her web to escape or she may vibrate her nest vigorously to intimidate, but she poses no threat. A bite is rare, but should it happen, the reaction will be mild. The best thing for us to do is to leave her alone since she is fast approaching the end of her life cycle.
At this time of year she will produce her eggs. Her abdomen will swell before producing usually one, but up to three, egg sacs containing from 300 to over a thousand young in each, and her life will end with the first frost. Her babies hatch inside the sac, where they also overwinter before emerging in the spring looking like miniatures of their parents.
I have witnessed the emergence of the miniature spiders in the spring and it is reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web. Off they scurry in every direction to begin their own summer journey of life.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester