A black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) sits on its web.
Credit: Rob Stokes | Shutterstock
Known for their colorful, intricately patterned abdomens, garden spiders are the common name for the genus Argiope, which means “with a bright face” in Latin. There are dozens of species within this genus, but the most common members found in North America are the yellow and black, banded and silver varieties.
In North America, they are found in southern Canada, the continental United States, and as far south as Costa Rica. They rarely venture inside human dwellings. These non-aggressive spiders’ bites are not harmful to humans.
Garden spiders typically live for about one year. After mating in the fall, the females eat the males then die soon after. Spiderlings hatch in the spring.
Garden spiders are also known as garden orb weavers because of their distinctive webs. They are the creators of the delicate, circular, spoked webs that are the classic image of a spider web. Sometimes, they cluster heavy streams of silk in a zigzag pattern near the center of the web. Most garden spiders spin a beautiful new web each night after eating the remnants of the old web.
The vertical spokes of the web are not sticky and serve as tightropes for the spider to walk on. The circular strands are very sticky, causing flying insects such as flies, bees, grasshoppers, and others to get stuck in it. Garden spiders often hang in the center of the web with their heads down, and when an insect gets stuck they wave or vibrate the web to entangle the prey in it. Then, they quickly wrap the prey in silk and bite it, causing the prey to go still.
Garden spiders will spin webs in plants, in porch overhangs, between trees, and in other outdoor spots.
Black and yellow garden spider
The species Argiope aurantia has several common names, including black and yellow garden spider, corn spider, writing spider and zipper spider. In Latin, aurantia means “overlaid with gold” — a fitting description for this colorful spider. It has a large, egg-shaped abdomen patterned on top with three-to-four bold black and yellow spots and stripes and, on the bottom, mottled black with two vertical yellow stripes. Its celothorax (smaller, front section of the body) is covered with shiny silver hairs. Its eight eyes are arranged in a trapezoid pattern.
Female spiders are larger than males, growing up to a 1.5 inches (4 centimeters) long. Males are typically three-quarters of an inch (almost 2 cm) long. Females have yellowish or reddish legs at the base that fade to black. Males have brown legs with faded black bands. Young spiders’ legs are entirely banded.
Silver garden spider
Argiope argentata, also known as the silver garden spider, has a primarily shiny silver body with brown or orange coloration on the back of its abdomen and brown tones on its underside. Its legs are banded in silver, black, and orange colors. The silver color develops over time. Like other garden spiders, females are significantly larger than males.
The silver garden spider lives in warmer regions of North America, such as California and Florida, and is even sometimes found in Argentina. It’s often spotted on prickly pear cacti during the autumn months.
The silver garden spider’s web is especially likely to have a heavy zigzag pattern.
Banded garden spider
Agriope trifasciata is the most common garden spider in the Western United States, though they live all over the country. It has an abdomen that is pointed toward the rear and is covered in small stripes. The female spider is mostly white or yellow with black stripes (or grooves), while the male is typically white or silver with gold stripes. Both sexes have bands on their legs and eyes clumped in a trapezoidal shape. The female is significantly larger than the male.
Banded garden spiders always keep their dark undersides facing south in order to absorb the sun’s rays and use the solar energy to stay active for longer during cold weather.