Halloween evokes images of scary spider webs, with spiders waiting to devour their prey. Fall is when spiders are noticed the most. During this time, spiders are mating and producing egg sacs to reestablish the population next spring. The first hard frost of winter kills most spiders. Two orb-weaver spiders, the barn spider and the yellow garden spider, are commonly seen in the Columbia County area this time of year.
Barn spiders (Araneus cavaticus), despite their common name, can be found near a variety of buildings, porches and caves. They will construct their webs where flying insects are attracted, such as on a porch near the lights.
These spiders are nocturnal and construct a new web every evening and deconstruct it before dawn. This rusty brown spider has legs extending about 2 inches, making it appear quite large. It measures from 4 to 5 inches in length.
The barn spider is the model for Charlotte in E.B. White’s famous book, Charlotte’s Web. These spiders hide during the day, but at night, they are found in the middle of the web waiting for their meals to be trapped. Barn spiders are aggressive towards each other and are very territorial. If the barn spider is threatened, it may bounce while in the middle of the web to appear larger to its enemy. The barn spider rarely bites. When it does, the bite poses no danger to a healthy human.
The yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) is one of the longest spiders in Georgia. Also known as the black and yellow argiope, the spider’s body measures from ¾ to 11/8 inches in diameter. The abdomen has distinctive yellow and black markings, and the front part of the body, the cephalothorax, is covered in white. These spiders produce large, orb-shaped webs in the garden that are often suspended from trees, shrubs or the eves of houses. They usually choose locations with very little wind to construct their webs, which measure up to 2 feet in diameter.
The female yellow garden spider typically remains in one location throughout her life, repairing and reconstructing her web as it is damaged. The web may have a distinctive zigzag of silk through the middle, giving it the common name of “writing spider.”
Unlike the nocturnal barn spider, the yellow garden spider can be found in its web at any time. Sometimes a smaller spider will be found in the web with her. This is the male garden spider. The yellow garden spider rarely bites, and when it does, it poses no danger to a healthy human.
These spiders have been present all summer growing and eating insects. By early fall, they are large enough to be noticed. Georgia has more than 800 species of spiders. The two venomous spiders in this area are the black widow and brown recluse.