I’ve always called them writing spiders or yellow and black garden spiders. Other names this arachnid goes by are the banana spider, the zipper spider, the black and yellow Argiope, and the golden orb-weaver.
They’re called writing spiders because of the thick white zig-zag pattern in their webs. The orb-weaver name means that these spiders spin circular webs. Argiope is the genus name of these spiders.
These large colorful creatures are totally harmless. In fact, they’re quite helpful at ridding our exterior domain of many pesky insects. They won’t hurt our plants as all spiders are carnivorous.
Furthermore, they aren’t aggressive. I guess you could get one to bite you, and that bite might get infected. Any spider bite should be cleaned thoroughly and coated with antiseptic ointment or cream. However, people are not on their menu or enemy list for that matter.
Arachnophobia seems to be common. I see it a lot with teenagers. However, most spiders in this area are harmless. The only two poisonous ones to my knowledge are the black widow and the brown recluse. This big yellow one is as beautiful as it is innocuous, especially the females. Female spiders are often ten times larger than males.
In many spider species, females kill and eat the males during or after mating. In this species, male spiders frequently don’t survive the mating process, since the females are so aggressive and so much larger. Killing and eating the male is not the goal of writing spider females though.
After mating, the female produces 1-3 brown, papery egg sacs. Each one contains well over 1000 eggs. She attaches each one of these egg sacs to the web.
Young spiders usually hatch in the fall, but they don’t emerge from the sacs until spring. In the meantime, many predators, especially birds, raid these egg sacs and eat all the spiderlings. Others become parasitized by other insects. Very few of the baby spiders make it to adulthood, so laying a large number of eggs is important.
There is a considerable argument as to why these spiders spin the zipper pattern into their webs. Some entomologists think it is mostly to attract prey. Others postulate it might be for visibility, so large animals won’t get entangled and destroy the web. Still, others say it is to purge themselves of excess silk, so they can recharge their silk glands.
Males construct webs too, but they are not as impressive as those the females construct. Often webs can be four feet across. They can easily fill a seldom-used doorway, and this can be menacing for people trying to enter.
Spiders hunt by ambush. They wait for prey to enter the web and become entangled. Often, the spider is not on the web but close by it. Sometimes spiders contact the web so they can feel the vibrations when something gets caught.
Despite their relatively large size, writing spiders can catch and eat prey much larger than themselves. Dragonflies, frogs and even hummingbirds sometimes make the mistake of venturing into the web and they’re toast.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.
I’ve read that the fangs on these spiders are so small, they can’t pierce human skin. However, they are very large, and they trigger my arachnophobia if I’m walking in a field surrounded by them. But one in a small garden is cool to see.
I’ve never been bitten by one and I’ve let them crawl all over me. They’re certainly not aggressive toward people, but they will tear up dragonflies, cicadas and hummingbirds if they get caught in the web.