This spider has many aliases. Some of them include: Golden Orb Weaver, Yellow Garden Spider, Yellow Orb Weaver, Writing Spider, Black & Yellow Argiope, and the Corn Spider. I called her “Awesome”.
The top spider lived on our front porch (Holly Springs, NC) for a few weeks. The bottom spider made it’s home at the Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC.
These spiders are called writing spiders because of the zig-zag that crosses vertically through it’s web. It’s called a stabilimenta or web-decoration. Many different weavers make these web decorations and in a variety of forms from an X to a cross to horizontal zig-zags, etc. As far as the purpose of the pattern – it’s not really understood. Some people think that it is to alert birds and other larger animals so that they avoid the nest. Some people thing that it makes the spider appear bigger and more dangerous – again helping to keep it safe from predators. Even more, the web decorations may use ultraviolet light reflections to attract prey. Daily the females will eat the bulk of their web and rebuild it. Pop-culture reference: it is thought that E.B. White used the web decorations of similar spiders as the idea of Charlotte’s Web.
So, Wikipedia says that these spiders are common in the 48 states and other areas – but I never encountered one before moving to NC where they seem pretty common over the warm summer months. The create webs in fairly safe areas that aren’t exposed to too much wind. The webs can get as big as 2 feet in diameter. They are general pretty stagnant when they establish a home. That’s why the female above became a pal. She made her web right by our front porch and stayed there for weeks.
She dealt well with my peering curiosity every time I entered and left the house. Though, when I got to close she would hold tight in the center of her web and vibrate furiously! She would send the whole web bouncing but she held tight. Clearly a defensive move but others suggest that they also do it when they catch prey to ensure that they are thoroughly snagged.
Like many species, sexual dimorphism means that the males are significant smaller and more boring than the females. The males can get to be 3/4 of an inch. The females can reach 3 inches in diameter. They mate once per year, after which the male dies and it usually consumed. The females die when winter comes. The egg sacs, up to 4, release their teeny tiny spiders in the spring. These bitty babies are so small that they look like bits of dust in the web. Some let out thread to catch the wind and take them to a new home (just like in our favorite children’s spider story). Then it starts again. The females, when immature, are generally more narrow like the the top photo above. Toward the end of the summer they start taking on a rounder shape and prove to be an impressive size. The photo below – that spider was big. She was the most impressive spider I have seen in a natural habitat. I couldn’t get too close to her trampling plants but I wish I could have taken some closer shots. There was a male at the corner of her web that I did photograph, but he’s so small that he’s hard to make out. Must have been somewhat intimidating…
Anyhow, like most spiders – these big ladies are not at all dangerous to people. They can bite if you mishandle them but the bite will likely result in some itching, redness, and slight soreness that goes away pretty quickly. They are impressive hunters and non-aggressive so if you see them hanging out neat your porch – let them stay.