Have you ever found a large black and yellow spider on the outskirts of your yard or garden? If you’re anything like me, you probably freaked out the first time you saw it. They’re pretty scary-looking with their black and yellow markings… and they’re big! In fact, they’re one of the largest spiders in New York State.
But as it turns out, they’re fairly harmless. They will only bite if handled or injured, and it’s about the same intensity as a bee sting.
And even better news: they help us a lot! They eat many different bugs that harm fruits and vegetables, making them a welcome addition to any garden. Let’s find out more!
The black and yellow garden spider is noticeable because it’s… black and bright yellow! You’re most likely to find a female, which can be around an inch in length and has intense yellow markings on its back.
Males are much smaller and less colorful.
Although they are around all summer, you’re most likely to see them in August and September.
You can usually find them in sunny, knee-high grasses and plants around your yard and garden. They especially like spots where two habitats meet, such as a field and a yard. We find multiple ones each year around our south-facing blackberry bushes.
These guys aren’t unique to the Catskills. In fact, they can be found all over North America, including in Hawaii and Costa Rica! But in New York we’re not used to seeing such large and colorful spiders, so they stand out.
Their technical name is Argiope Aurantia. What a mouthful! They have also been called golden garden spiders, writing spiders, zigzag spiders, zipper spiders, and corn spiders, to name just a few of their pseudonyms. And they belong to the orb weaver family, so sometimes they’re called orb weavers too.
We all despise flies and wasps. And it turns out these spiders will eat them… along with just about any other bug you can think of! That includes smelly stinkbugs and those infernal Japanese beetles that torment blueberries, beans, and more this time of year.
The fact that they eat so many undesirables makes them a perfect friend to have near or in the garden. Just make sure you know where the web is so you don’t accidentally tear it down. That creates a lot of extra work for your spider pal!
Unlike many spiders, black and yellow garden spiders will set up shop in one place and stay there most of their lives. When creating their web, they form straight spokes to provide framework and then create the attractive circular webbing that will capture prey.
The spider eats the circular part of her web each night and then remakes it, keeping only the straight, nonsticky parts that keep it together. This gives the spider a chance to eat small insects and other objects that float in that they wouldn’t ordinarily notice and get nutrition from them.
A notable aspect of the web is the vertical zigzag near the middle – this is called a “stabilimentum,” and it’s thought to be the spider’s way of alerting birds so they don’t fly through it.
The spider sits in the center of its large (up to 2 feet wide!) web, facing down toward the ground. They can shake their webs to scare away predators. In case of greater danger, the spider will hop down out of its web altogether and seek shelter nearby until the threat has passed.
These spiders begin life in an egg sac that’s laid in the fall. The baby spiders (called, adorably, “spiderlings“) emerge the following spring, provided they aren’t eaten in the meantime by their many predators, which include wasps, other spiders, and even birds!
While young, the spiders keep close to the ground. As the females reach maturity, they begin building webs higher up and in the sun, which is how most people think of them. This usually occurs in late summer and fall, so many associate them with August and September.
Eventually, a male will come along and make a much smaller web near or inside the female’s web. He gets the female’s attention by tapping on her web to say hello. How polite!
Unfortunately for him, the male dies after mating. The female lives on and lays up to four sets of egg sacs, but she too dies after the first frost of the fall. The egg sacs will overwinter and begin the process again next spring!
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about these fascinating creatures. Next time you or someone you know finds one, don’t be scared, and definitely don’t kill it! The spider will be happy to sit in its web and take care of nasty bugs for you.
Where all have you found black and yellow garden spiders?