The Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope Aurantia)

Updated on October 29, 2018
The Dirt Farmer profile image

Jill volunteers at community gardens and learns about gardening through the MD Master Gardening and Master Naturalist programs.

Yellow garden spiders eat relatively large prey, including butterflies and moths, and are known for the distinctive lightning-bolt patterns in their webs (see top middle of photo).
Yellow garden spiders eat relatively large prey, including butterflies and moths, and are known for the distinctive lightning-bolt patterns in their webs (see top middle of photo). | Source

They're big, bright and . . . well, sort of creepy looking, especially when they're "wrapping up" a pretty butterfly or moth for dinner. But despite all that, yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia) are great to have in your garden.

Like toads and salamanders, these spiders are sensitive beings. They're insect predators that can be handy to have around, and their presence in your yard is a sign that the ecology is a healthy, balanced one.

Yellow Garden Spiders Are Beneficial Predators

If you see one of these spiders in your landscape, don't squash it! It's one of the good guys (most of the time). It even wears a big white "hat" (its cephalothorax—fused head and thorax).

What Are the Benefits of Yellow Garden Spiders?

Like praying mantises, these spiders catch, kill and eat a wide variety of prey, including both garden pests and beneficials—so resist the urge to get rid of them! You will likely notice a resurgence of flying pests if you do.

Did You Know?

This spider is a sneaky predator. It connects itself to its web with a thin strand of silk and hides to the side. When its prey gets caught, it feels the vibrations and comes running!

These spiders' webs are strong enough to entangle both small and large prey like grasshoppers, moths and praying mantises. The females are strong and agile enough to subdue the large prey they trap. They do so by wrapping prey in silk and injecting it with paralytic venom.

A yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) prepping a moth for dinner.
A yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) prepping a moth for dinner. | Source

Are Yellow Garden Spiders Poisonous?

Yellow garden spiders are not poisonous, but they are venomous. Their venom is toxic enough to paralyze prey, but it is extremely unlikely to adversely affect a healthy human.

In addition to paralyzing prey, the spider's venom begins to predigest the insect's insides, eventually liquefying it completely.

Note: What's the difference between "venomous" and "poisonous"? Creatures that bite or sting to inject their toxins are considered venomous, whereas those that unload their poison upon being ingested are considered poisonous.

Yellow garden spiders bite if provoked.

These spiders are not aggressive with people, but they will bite if they feel threatened. If you grab a female near her egg sac, for instance, she is likely to inject venom into you just as she would into prey caught in her web—but with a much less devastating result, of course.

For most people, yellow garden spider bites are comparable to bee stings or mosquito bites. The damage is negligible—a little itchiness, a little redness and slight swelling.

Female and male Argiope aurantia
Female and male Argiope aurantia | Source

Male vs. Female Yellow Garden Spiders

Last year, I noticed three pairs of these spiders in our garden. One couple set up housekeeping in a Golden Hinoki False Cypress, another in a Miss Kim lilac bush, and another in a barberry shrub. Although I never saw the males, I knew they were there because of their webs.

Drastic Size Difference

Male Argiope aurantia are anywhere from about a third to a quarter of the size of their female counterparts, which can grow to be over an inch in size, with large, fat abdomens.

Separate Living Quarters

Not only are male Argiope aurantia much smaller than their female counterparts, but their webs are smaller, too. In fact, their webs are actually small structures positioned near or even within the larger structure of the female's web. The females' webs are large—often more than two feet in diameter. The male spiders will sometimes spin a little web near their edges.

The males live only a year and often move from female to female. Their little webs are comparable to temporary living quarters.

Other Names for Yellow Garden Spiders

writing spiders
zigzag spiders
lightning spiders
black-and-yellow argiopes
black-and-yellow garden spiders
golden garden spiders
golden orb weavers
yellow garden orb weavers
yellow garden argiopes

How Big Are Yellow Garden Spiders?

Females can reach 1.1 inches in diameter (not counting their legs), and males top out at 0.35 inches (35mm).

Note: Snakes aren't the only creatures that molt. Spiders periodically shed their old exoskeletons as they grow. Don't believe it? Watch this tarantula crawl out of its old exoskeleton!

A spider's molted exoskeleton. (Not from Argiope aurantia.)
A spider's molted exoskeleton. (Not from Argiope aurantia.) | Source
The zigzagging line in a yellow garden spider's web is called a stabilimentum.
The zigzagging line in a yellow garden spider's web is called a stabilimentum. | Source

Spectacular Spiderwebs

Writing spiders spin strong, distinctive webs, which can be up to two feet in diameter.

Lightning-Bolt Web Decorations (a.k.a. Stabilimenta)

Yellow garden spiders create zigzagging lines that look like lightning bolts down the middle of their webs, which is why they are often called writing spiders. These lines are called stabilimenta because they were first thought to provide structural support (stability) to the webs.

Today, scientists debate the purpose of stabilimenta. Do they attract prey? (A study published in Behavioral Ecology showed that the zigzagging lines actually reduced the number of prey captured by up to 30 percent.) Some researchers hypothesize that the purpose of stabilimenta is to deter birds from crashing into the webs. In any case, only diurnal spiders (ones that are active during the day) use stabilimenta.

Orb Weavers Have Extra Claws

Argiope aurantia are orb weavers. Like all orb-weaver spiders (there are about 180 orb-weaver species in North America alone), they are fast and prolific spinners that have three claws per foot on each of their legs. That's one more claw than most spiders have.

Orb weavers use their extra claws to help them handle the threads as they spin, allowing them to spin complicated webs in a few hours.

Did You Know?

Some spiders can make as many as seven different types of silk, though most only make four or five kinds.

They Eat Their Webs Each Night

Each night, Argiope aurantia eat the central part of their webs, leaving the anchor threads intact, and spin them anew. They do this for several reasons:

  • The sticky silk that captures prey is rendered useless when coated with dust or pollen.
  • Eating the old silk allows spiders to reabsorb and reuse its proteins to create new silk.
  • Ingesting dew-covered silk allows spiders to take in much-needed moisture (especially before molting).
  • The old silk may contain tiny insects that provide extra nutrients for the spider.

The egg sacs of the yellow garden spider are large and brown.
The egg sacs of the yellow garden spider are large and brown. | Source
A yellow garden spider's egg sac can hatch over 1,000 spiderlings.
A yellow garden spider's egg sac can hatch over 1,000 spiderlings. | Source

Egg Sacs and Spring Spiderlings

In late summer, female Argiope aurantia produce three or four large, papery egg sacs. Rounded and brown, the sacs look as if they're made from paper bags. Just like their webs and the spiders themselves, the sacs are large and easy to spot. This winter, even on the bleakest days, I could see their egg sacs in the shrubbery, a welcome sign of life in the otherwise barren landscape.

Each sac contains 300–1,400 eggs and can release over 1,000 spiderlings. However, only a very small of the babies survive their early spiderling-hood.

Protecting the Egg Sacs From Weather and Predators

To keep the sacs safe over the winter, the female spiders weave them into their webs. In our shrubbery, a female writing spider wove several webs for her sacs, attaching them to stems and leaves with webbing. The webbing not only holds the sacs in place, but it also provides them with protection from the elements and predators, such as ants, wasps and birds.

Yellow Garden Spider Characteristics

Description: Females sport black-topped abdomens with symmetrical stripes and patches of bright yellow. They have three-tone legs, which are usually reddish brown or orange at the base and black at the tips, with whitish-beige bands above and below one or more of the joints. Males are far smaller, with less yellow abdominal coloration and brownish legs.

When at rest on their webs, these spiders typically keep their legs in pairs, creating an X-like shape.

Range: Yellow garden spiders are common throughout the continental United States and Canada, Mexico and Central America.

Did You Know?

Spiders are found on every continent except for Antarctica!

Diet: These beneficial spiders eat all manner of flying insects, such as mosquitoes, grasshoppers, dragonflies, aphids, wasps, bees, moths, and butterflies. (On occasion, these spiders have been known to eat hummingbirds or frogs that get stuck in their webs, but this is very much the exception rather than the rule!)

Life Cycle: Males court females by plucking (and thereby vibrating) the females' webs. After mating, the female will weave between one and three egg sacs into her web. Her offspring will then hatch in late summer or autumn, though in areas with cold winters, they will remain "dormant" in the egg sac until spring.

Males usually die after mating. Females, however, tend to die in the first hard frost after mating, meaning they live for about one year (though if temperatures are very mild, females can live for several years!).

Would you welcome this spider in your yard?

See results

Resources

  1. Ault, A. (2015, December 03). Ask Smithsonian: How Do Spiders Make Their Webs? Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  2. Blackledge, T. A., & Wenzel, J. W. (1999). Do stabilimenta in orb webs attract prey or defend spiders? Behavioral Ecology, 10(4), 372-376.
  3. Hawkinson, C. (n.d.). Beneficials in the Garden: Black-and-Yellow Argiope Spider. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  4. McSilk, J. (2014, October 8). Joe’s Spider Of The Week: The Orb-Weavers. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  5. Orb-Weaver Spiders: Facts, Prevention & Spider Control. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  6. Yellow Garden Spider. Retrieved on October 22, 2018.

Questions & Answers

© 2014 Jill Spencer

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    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      5 weeks ago from United States

      Hi, it's hard to say why the spiders choose the locations they do. This summer we've only had one yellow garden spider but lots of funnel web spiders. They're supposed to weave their tunnels in dark areas, but ours are out in the flowerbeds big as life in full sun. As for overwintering the egg sacs, I have no experience with doing such a thing and will defer to others. Perhaps entomologist Mike Raupp, who hosts Bug of the Week, could answer that. http://bugoftheweek.com/

    • profile image

      witthaus 

      5 weeks ago

      i had to move two writer spider egg sacs because i was rearranging a shed's fencing. (i know it was a writer spider because i fed her grasshoppers a few times late summer). I wish to overwinter them safely. I have a non-frost free refrigerator, (ie it has moisture). Shall i keep them in there until warm weather? I could then put it in a safe pasture, instead of the barn area, where i know there are not so verrrrry many wasps.

    • profile image

      DaNessa 

      6 weeks ago

      Well she layed 5 sacs. Then one morning I checked on her and she was gone. I checked back several times without luck. I'm disappointed because it's still so hot here. I wonder if she spies her egg sacs from afar. I wonder if she left. How far can they travel? Ok, thanks Jill

    • profile image

      Chris Walker 

      8 weeks ago

      We have a garden spider that made 2 egg sacks by our barn. After about a month the spider left and made a new web much closer to our. It’s a little unnerving. Haha! Anyway, is it common for them to just leave their egg sacks and home webs after being there for so long?

    • profile image

      Clint Mullins 

      8 weeks ago

      Not seeing many in Indiana in the past several years

    • profile image

      DaNessa 

      2 months ago

      Hello Jill! I have a yellow garden spider right outside my back door. There's no plants near, and I don't leave on my porch light, so I'm not sure why she picked such n exposed spot. I don't kill spiders because there beneficial. If my daughter comes across one she screams for me and I take it outside. But as you know this is a large long legged yellow garden spider that's right outside our door about chest high! Since I have a cat that brings me cicadas and large moths I've been feeding her regularly. When she later her first egg sac, I was thrilled. I felt some trust. Shockingly over the last month she has added three more baby sacs for a total of four!! You can imagine how proud I feel. Since we live in the hot south there's still time for another! I just feel like this isn't normal. I read she will die when it gets cold/ or first frost?? Thanks for having this ongoing conversation. I'm excited to hear your thoughts! Thanks, DaNessa

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      2 months ago from United States

      That is too cool, Aminah! Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • profile image

      Aminah9 

      2 months ago

      Hi Jill, truly awesome knowledge shared here about these beautiful "grandmother" spiders. I took notice to them when I actually witnessed and filmed her spinning her web between our large bush and bay window. She has been around for about a month now and now just today I took notice of the two sacs she's created. She is at work every night at the witching hour reforming her stabilimenta, and now has actually switched to the other side of her web. It's awesome to see others views on these awesome arachnids. Thanks again Jill.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      2 months ago from United States

      As humans take up more spaces, roadsides get mown or sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, many old friends like yellow garden spiders, fireflies and butterflies are declining in numbers. We must advocate for them and make our own yards welcoming to them by swearing off chemicals and planting more native plants. Thank you for commenting! Hope your holiday weekend is happy. Jill

    • profile image

      Dimitri Eyushke 

      2 months ago

      My family and friends throughout Ohio grew up around these spiders, and many of them as well. They were constantly everywhere that tall grass was to be found, but now, about a decade later, I have seen one or two while driving along the road. Has there been a decrease in their population in recent years?

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      13 months ago from United States

      Hi Ashley & Laura, I'm not sure what happened to your female yellow garden spiders. They may have been eaten by a bird or other predator. If you had a hard frost, that also might have killed them. Alternatively, they might have simply gone to another location to set their webs, although from what I've read, they usually stay with their sacs. If you live in a warm climate, it's more likely a predator got your spider or it moved to a different locale. They don't survive cold weather, and sacs won't hatch until spring. Although our winters are not particularly harsh here, our yellow garden spiders "disappeared" last year when the weather turned cold, leaving their brown, papery sacs behind to hatch in spring.

    • profile image

      Ashley Monts 

      13 months ago

      @Laura I am wondering the same. I’ve had a yellow garden spider in my flower bed for several weeks. Today, he is gone and is his web. Completely gone. Did he just pack it up and move along? So strange.

    • profile image

      Laura 

      13 months ago

      I had a Yellow Garden Spider in my hydrangia. She produced three sacs. Was up early yesterday and watched her fix her web. She had two large bugs wrapped up. When I went outside today, she is gone as is her web. Just disappeared. Is this common? Do they go off to die and dismantal their web? The sacs are there, and look unharmed. She has been in my plant for well over a month now that I know of. Just wondering if it is common for the female to disappear like this?

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      13 months ago from United States

      Hi Dominique, perhaps you're thinking of the webbing they produce. (:

    • profile image

      Dominique 

      13 months ago

      I want to know what does it mean when a garden spit on white gooey stuff.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      2 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Good job with this! I'm a big fan of the critters myself. Glad to see someone else preaching the gospel of beneficial spiders!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      3 years ago from United States

      Hi mary615, thanks for your comments. May all your spiders be friendly ones! lol

      sharkye11-- Vengeful garden spiders? It sounds like a Twilight Zone episode! Love it. Thanks for stopping by. Jill

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Congrats on HOTD! I love these spiders! I was always told by my grandmother that it was bad luck to kill them, and if you knocked their web down they would write your name when they rebuilt it and you would die within the year. Naturally, I always respected them growing up, and still go out of my way to protect their webs!

      Lovely hubs with great pictures! I hope it saves some garden spiders!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      3 years ago from Florida

      Congrats on this HOTD! I've never seen this particular spider. Your photos are outstanding!!

      We have many varieties of spiders where I live, and some of them are not very friendly!

      Your photo of the Zinnia is so pretty. I have some in bloom now that is that exact color.

      Voted this UP, etc.etc.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Congrats on HOTD, too!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      3 years ago from United States

      Hi Barbara! They're amazing, aren't they? And so big and bright that they hardly seem real. Thanks for stopping by! All the best, Jill

    • profile image

      BarbaraCasey 

      3 years ago

      I'm not usually a spider person, but was captivated by the saga of a spiny orb weaver a couple of years ago when it made its web off our apartment balcony. I couldn't get close enough to take pictures like yours, though. What a wonderful pictorial lesson you've given.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      3 years ago from United States

      Thanks for commenting, Rebecca, Donna & Kristen. I'm delighted and surprised to get a HOTD! Yay! --Jill

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Jill, thanks for sharing your vast wealth of knowledge on these yellow garden spiders. I never saw them before. Very interesting and voted up!

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 

      3 years ago from USA

      Hi Jill! Just wanted to stop by again and congratulate you on your HOTD! I still don't like spiders, but your accolade is well deserved :)

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I recognize the zigzag line. I will try not to kill any spiders until I check them out after reading this. Lovely hub. Congrats! Well deserved HOTD.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      I remember these spiders from childhood on the farm. Beautiful and they only do good.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 years ago from United States

      Hey Kenneth. Now we have a black snake and two box turtles, too! I actually wish the snakes would go back to the woods. They tend to hang around the front steps, alert with heads up, making me think they might dart inside if they got the chance. I miss the toads which, thanks to the snakes, aren't as prevalent now.

    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago

      Hi, Dirt Farmer,

      You have king snakes? Wow! You are one blessed person. Oh, how I would love it if I were physically-able to travel to see your place. Sounds like Eden to me.

      I do enjoy your work. You are a talented writer as well. I am grateful for our friendship and our mutual followings.

      Kenneth

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 years ago from United States

      Hi Kenneth! Spiders really are fascinating, and I've enjoyed keeping track of our yellow garden spiders. We now have several snakes in the garden-- king snakes, I think. I'd love to get a few pictures of them, but never seem to have the camera handy when I come across one. Appreciate your comments and your kinds words. All the best, Jill

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hello, Dirt Farmer,

      I love spiders. Spiders of all kinds, types, shapes. Loved this hub and voted it up and away---great job. Well-written and presented.

      Keep up the great work.

      Kenneth Avery, Hamilton, Al.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 years ago from United States

      Hi Deb. You know how it is -- now you'll start seeing yellow garden spiders everywhere! Nice to hear from you. Hope you're keeping well. --Jill

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Great info, Jill. I never knew about these.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 years ago from United States

      Hi there, Peggy W! Thanks for the pin. Yellow garden spiders seem to be just about everywhere, I guess, including the Lone Star state. Have a good one! All the best, Jill

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 years ago from United States

      Hi Lisa! Thanks for stopping by. Seems like lots of hubbers have yellow garden spiders in their yards. We must be doing something right! Have a good one. All the best, Jill

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 years ago from United States

      Nice to see again, too, Glimmer Twin Fan! Thanks for much for sharing this hub. (:

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I have also seen these spiders but never knew anything special about them. Thanks for the education about them. They are very pretty as spiders go! Ha! Pinning this to my butterflies and insects board.

    • LisaRoppolo profile image

      Lisa Roppolo 

      4 years ago from Joliet, IL

      I've had these in my garden as well. I leave them alone. If I'm trying to work in an area where there is one, I carefully relocate it.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      4 years ago

      Nice to see you again Jill! We love our yellow spiders in our yard. I never really considered their benefits, just that they are beautiful to look at. Shared around.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      4 years ago from Wales

      Spiders are not my favourite members of nature but this hub was so interesting.

      Voted up for sure.

      Eddy.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 

      4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Jill - yes it snowed in south-central PA. I had to cover up my strawberries. I am very ready for SUMMER!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 years ago from United States

      Hi Ms. Dora! I guess everybody's afraid of something. Frogs & toads are my bugaboos. Don't ask me why. Although I'd never kill one, I wouldn't want to cuddle up to one, and last year when I accidentally squeezed a toad while weeding (I thought he was a clump of dirt) I about had a heart attack! Hope you're having a good spring! All the best, Jill

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 years ago from United States

      Absolutely, Maren! Hey! How are you? I've been so busy that I've been away from HP for a while, but it's nice to be back & great to hear from you. Btw, it snowed here last night. Did you get the same?

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Jill, I am afraid of all spiders, but I'm glad I read your article. It is interesting and I learned a few hats. Now I'll look for the white hat to help me with identification. Thank you.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 

      4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Ok, Jill, when i see a spider the size of a quarter wearing a white hat, I'll say hello and not cause any harm to it. *Smile*

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 years ago from United States

      You're so accomplished at knitting! It's art when you do it, so I'm not surprised you work on it year round. I'm still in the pee wee league. Right not, I'm on a sabbatical! lol But I'll get back to it once the weather gets cold again.

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 

      4 years ago from USA

      Hi Jill - Yes, I knit year round :). In the summer, I like to start holiday gifts or work on larger projects. Plus, knitting is a great activity for vacation travel. Are you still knitting?

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 years ago from United States

      Hi purl3agony! Well, I certainly wouldn't pick one up, no matter how harmless they are, but like you I appreciate helpful spiders like the yellow garden spider. They're so big that many people find them scary, I think, and might kill them because they think they're dangerous rather than beneficial. Always good to hear from you. Will you still knit once the weather turns warm?

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 

      4 years ago from USA

      Hi Jill! I'm always happy to read your new hubs, but I must admit I'm not a fan of spiders. Now that I know a little bit more about Yellow Garden Spiders, I can appreciate them. Great hub with really wonderful photos - very interesting!! Voted up!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 years ago from United States

      Thanks for reading, Rebecca. I love to watch yellow garden spiders, although I haven't seen them capture a praying mantis as is in the video. That's a little too "Wild Kingdom" for me! All the best, Jill

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I've seen these fellas. I didn't realize what they were called OR that they were a gardener's helper. Thanks!

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