Yellow Garden Spider
Argiope aurantia Lucas
My friend and I spotted this beautiful spider in the First Landing National park of Virginia Beach. Although the scale is not apparent on this picture, the body (cephalothorax and abdomen only) was between 1.5 to 2". It was huge! It built it's enormous web (about 2 feet) among the tall grasses of the marsh. It hung there, in the middle, gently swaying in the wind. We watched it for a while amazed by the size and the brilliance of the colour pattern before continuing on our way. We came back a couple days later and it was still there.
Image via WikipediaAfter some research, I determined that our spider was a female mainly because of it's size and the time of year. According to the University of Arkansas Arthropod museum, males rarely reach a 1/4" and stop building webs once they've reached maturity, allocating their time to finding a mate. Astonishingly, the female eats her web and builds a new one everyday, generally at the same spot. I thought it would take her much longer to build such a colossal web that she wouldn't want to waste the energy on rebuilding it. This is a common practice amongst web spinning spiders; they regain some protein and ensure that the web is always sticky. I learn something everyday. Garden Spiders make spiral orb webs with special non-sticky or noncapture parts called stabilimentum, plural is stabilimenta. (The white zigzaging thread in the picture.) They are highly visible, some say it's to prevent birds from flying through, destroying the webs, or to help with camouflage. It has been shown to reduce capture rates. You can't see any on my picture so that could mean that this particular spider was hungry and chose to increase it's chances to catch it's dinner.
Speaking of dinner, you can watch this intense video of a Garden Spider dominating a velvet ant. Click Here. The shear wrapping speed is mind boggling never mind that the velvet ant, wingless female of the Mutillidae family, possess a hard core stinger that gave it the facetious nickname cow killer. I tip my hat to you beautiful Garden Spider, live long and prosper.
On that note, if you live in the east coast of North America, keep a look out for this amazing being in your neighborhood.