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Garden spider, harmless to humans, is more friend than foe


An Argiope auranti, commonly known in the Ozarks as a garden spider or black-and-yellow garden spider, rests in the center of her web, spotted just off the walking trail at Galloway Creek. Females of this species are the only ones to spin webs, which are often quite large, in order to trap insects it wraps and eats.

It is also one of the largest spiders in Missouri at up to an inch in body length, not counting the legs, and spins webs up to 2 feet in diameter, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. The highly visible zig-zag pattern down the middle of the web is thought to alert birds to the web's presence, keeping them from accidentally flying into it, getting entangled in the web and destroying it, according to theories posted on the Ask an Entomologist website, askentomologists.com. The site noted the theory seems to be backed up by the observation that webs of other spiders in the same family of orb weavers, those that rebuild their webs each night then take them down in the morning, don't feature the same construction technique.

The garden spider is also nicknamed the writing or letter spider, perhaps because the zig-zag pattern resembles letters or words. That, in turn, may have led to the Ozarks folk belief that seeing an orb weaver web across one’s path meant one would get a letter within a few days, as noted by wildlife experts with the MDC.

The spider is not aggressive and will bite only when disturbed, and while it is venomous, it is harmless to people.

The spider is so docile, in fact, MDC wildlife experts encourage people who have a fear of spiders to observe the Argiope auranti over a summer, adding the following advice: "If a female garden spider takes up residence among your tomatoes, try thinking of her as a weird little tenant who pays her rent by gobbling up grasshoppers."

The spiders hatch in the spring from egg cases left attached to leaves in the summer and fall and use silk strands like parafoil kites to catch breezes and disperse, grow to maturity and mate. The females spend the summer feeding and making cases for the eggs, sometimes as many as four, before dying in the first frosts of late fall and early winter.