A fully grown garden spider can be an intimidating sight. Often spotted in the landscape when they reach maturity in late summer, these big, black and yellow spiders and their large, circular webs are hard to miss. They almost seem to appear overnight. But, despite their intimidating appearance, garden spiders are good guys who deserve a home in your garden.
What does a garden spider look like?
Other common names include the yellow garden spider, the corn spider, the banded garden spider, or the writing spider (Argiope aurantia). A member of family Araneidae, this species is actually quite beautiful, if you care to look close enough. The large females have a distinctive black and yellow abdomen, and 8 black legs that are graced with red or yellow markings. The leg span of fully grown females can be up to three inches long from front to back. The male garden spider isn’t quite as fancy or as large. He’s brown and drab and only about quarter of the size of the female.
A female garden spider spins a unique web, too. Her large, distinctive web is built in mid summer, when she’s hoping to secure a mate and trap enough food to support her egg-laying efforts. Each female garden spider builds a two- to three-foot-wide, circular web centered with a prominent zigzag line of silk called a stabilimentum. I often find the females’ webs stretched between the tomato stakes in my vegetable garden. The female spider is almost always waiting for prey at the center of the web, near the stabilimentum.
Males build webs, too, though theirs are far smaller. Often located near, or even within, the female’s web, the male’s web is denser and not nearly as “fancy.” Many times there are several male webs found near each female web, which can lead to some interesting mating behavior (more on that later!).
Is the garden spider native to North America?
Garden spiders are indeed native to North America. They’re found in each of the 48 contiguous states and even in Hawaii. Their range also extends southward into Central America and northward into the southern regions of Canada.
Gardens are great homes for the garden spider. Females prefer to position their web in a protected site that is sheltered from heavy winds. Each night, the female garden spider eats the central strands of her web and rebuilds it with fresh strands of silk just before dawn.
Garden spider “love”
Male garden spiders visit females to breed in mid to late summer. In an interesting courtship ritual, the male garden spider plucks the strings of the female’s web gently and in a very specific way, to make her aware of his presence. Then he slowly approaches and hopes he doesn’t get attacked in the process. It’s been noted that males will sometimes attempt to breed with female garden spiders while they’re in their final molt because during molts, the females are immobile and there’s no risk of attack (smart guys!).
During mating, the male garden spider leaves his palps (the place where he stores his sperm) behind as “plugs” to prevent other males from mating with the same female garden spider. Then, as soon as mating ends, the male spontaneously dies, often while he’s still attached to the female. Occasionally the female spider will consume the male’s body after mating.
Soon after mating, the female spider creates one to five papery, brown egg sacs, each about a half inch in diameter and filled with a thousand or more eggs. The egg cases of these arachnids are positioned on the sticky silk of the web, typically near the center. The female garden spider protects her egg cases until her death, around the time of the first frost.
Come spring, the eggs hatch and dust-like spiderlings emerge to find a new home in the garden. They’re often carried around the landscape on the wind.
Do garden spiders bite?
Both male and female garden spiders are docile and nonaggressive. However, they can bite if threatened, trapped, or stepped on. Their bite is said to feel much like a bee sting, and their venom causes redness and swelling at the bite site. Like all spiders, yellow garden spiders are not “out to get you,” nor will they purposefully attack or harm humans. Let them do their work in the garden and try your best not to disturb them.
Of the 3000 or so species of spiders found in North America, only four are considered harmful to humans. They are: the black widow, the brown recluse, the hobo spider (found in the arid climate of western states), and the yellow sac, which is thought to be the most common source of nuisance bites across the continent.
Is a garden spider a good bug or a bad one?
Like thousands of other spider species found in our yards and gardens here in the United States, the garden spider is considered to be very beneficial. It consumes lots of common landscape pests including adult boxwood leafminers, as well as bees, grasshoppers, moths, beetles, wasps, and just about any other flying insect that gets trapped in its orb web.
Other types of garden spiders
There are, of course, many other species of spiders worth appreciating in your garden. They’re extremely valuable predators who help manage pests in some surprising ways. While the yellow garden spider and other orb weavers trap their prey in webs, many species of spiders don’t spin webs at all. Instead, they crawl around and hunt for their prey. These spiders are known as cursorial, or hunting, spiders.
Cursorial spiders, such as jumping spiders, wolf spiders, and crab spiders, are especially important to gardeners because they move around the garden to find their prey. Numerous studies have shown that spiders consume a massive amount of garden pests, including aphids, mites, asparagus beetles, squash bugs, budworms, caterpillars, and many more. Much of this predation takes place at night, when the watchful eye of the gardener is sound asleep.
If you want to learn more about the importance of spiders and other beneficial insects, I recommend the following books: Insects and Gardens, Bringing Nature Home, Good Bug Bad Bug, and Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control.
No matter which types of spiders live in your garden, give them some love. They play a major role in keeping the ecosystem of the garden healthy and balanced. Let them do their work as you go about yours and you’ll both reap the benefits.
To learn more about both the good and bad critters that live in your garden, check out the following posts:
8 Organic ways to control slugs
Our guide to vegetable garden pests
Paper wasps: Are they worth the sting?
Help fireflies by doing these things in your backyard
Have you ever had a garden spider make a home in your landscape? What did you think when you discovered it? Share your stories with us in the comment section below.
Kathryn Auguste says
We found an incredible huge female in my hosta plant yesterday. She is over 2 inches long. Bright markings. She has several bundles wrapped in her web. I guess we’ll have to givevher a name.
Judy SULLIVAN says
I had a very large Garden Spider I call Charlotte build a web in my office window. She made 1 fairly large egg sac at the top of the window. I have been watching her for the last 3 weeks or so. We have a pipe that comes out of our house with warm air when the furnace clicks on. She laid her eggs in the sac and moved over toward the warm pipe. We had an unexpected snow last night and it got very cold. I can’t really tell but I don’t think she is with us anymore. I know it’s nature but it made me very sad. My grandchildren have been watching her as well.
Lea Ann D Moses says
I have had a black and yellow garden spider on my awning of my front door now for months i dont use the front door unless we get packages so she is mostly not bothered except for occasional package delivery and then its a funny site to see the grown men come to the door see her and freak out I get a laugh every time. she seems to have two sacks and they are not actually attached to her web they to are attached to the roof awning she had a huge web when she first came months ago but has shortened it recently for what ever reason and is now on awning by her baby sacs it has gotten cold here in VA at night like 30 degrees but shes still hanging in there no pun intended. but i like watching her and she can stay as long as she likes.
Andrew Epp says
Every year I have at least 1 yellow and black garden spider. I request for people who spot then and wouldn’t mind parting ways with their spider to let me relocate them to my place where I can watch them thrive all fall. I have incredible respect for these creatures. My daughter and I will say hi every day and feed the spider when necessary. We (dare I say) love these spiders. We’ll often bring her inside in a jar for night if the first frost is immanent and I can tell she has more eggs to lay. Then we place her back in her web when chances of frost have subsided for the next few days so she can lay her egg sac. When she dies, we have a sort of funeral and bury her in the garden soil, so her body goes one step further in its garden benefits, by physically providing nutrients to the soil and next year’s plants. My wife thinks I’m crazy, but I still cry when that time comes. I have woke up early in the morning on days where I thought she might lay eggs just to watch the process take place overnight. These spiders are perhaps the most underrated mothers in the animal kingdom. They spend their whole mature life creating and protecting the lives of thousands of their own unborn children, whom they will never get to meet. I’ve seen the desire for continuance of life rapidly disappear from one garden spider after a wind storm took her only egg sac (this was well before first frost). These creatures have the God-given instructions written into their DNA to create unmatched beauty each and every time they spin a new web. Their delicate, yet powerful physique can handle battles with grasshoppers, praying mantises, cicadas, and I’ve even heard of small bats, snakes, or frogs. Extremely non-agressive towards humans, these spiders are the perfect garden companion as they build in the same spot every day, so you know you can rely on seeing them. If you ever get the chance to watch the entire mating ritual, it is an incredible sight to behold. I have watched the male slowly approach, over two days time, then strum her web like a harp while courting, mate, and then be literally devoured by the female like she was eating a burger and long french fries (Yes they have mouths to eat as well as fangs). If something gets in the web that is too big or the spider is just not hungry, she’ll shake the web vigorously until it falls out. This past fall, we had Sammy. She was amazing. She even came out trick-or treating with my wife, me, and my two-year-old daughter (Sammy stayed on my shirt sleeve pretty much the whole time). When it was all said and done, Sammy gave us 5 egg sacs to continue her bloodline and the spiritual journey of my garden’s never-ending ecosystem. My daughter and I miss Sammy, but we look up at her egg sacs every day and say hi, as we remember we will see those babies in spring. Again, these spiders are truly amazing, and deserve the utmost respect as the queen guardians of our plants.
Jessica Walliser says
Love this! Thanks for sharing.
Rachel Jarboe says
I can relate to all of this!! I got teary eyed reading it!
Ellen Cantarow says
When I was a little girl I somehow developed Arachnophobia. I have spent my entire life (I am now 81!) trying to rid myself of this preposterous fear. It’s gotten so that I can approach spiders in their webs up pretty close. I shudder to have them on me, however. How I wish I were like my great-granddaughter who LOVES spiders, all of them. I know they are among Earth’s most valuable and useful animals. I live in a New York City apartment building with ample garden spaces. I doubt that other co-op owners would take to my ordering spiders for the garden, however. But I’ll ask at a co-op meeting. I ENVY you your love and devotion to Charlotte!
I currently have a giant female, just hanging out, on my patio. I was tossing a moth into a smaller spiders web.. (because what else is there to do during this 🦠 stuff?).. after the little guy caught it and was wrapping it up, I glanced to my left, and about peed myself! She was less then 5 inches away from my face!! I’ve never seen such a spider before, so I legit almost passed out, lol. She has no web, just one silk string from the edge of the brick to where she’s sitting, face down. I actually ended up here to try to find info on their behavior and different mannerisms, as she’s acting strange. It looks almost like she’s folding herself in half, and she appears to be twisting herself around, lifting her legs in an odd way. It’s really strange. I can’t say exactly what she’s doing though. I’m not getting close to a spider, that’s that big, that’s moving in any way whatsoever. I’m having problems finding any info though. It seems every article is a cut and paste page. I wish I could leave a picture for you, but apparently that’s not a thing here.
Jessica Walliser says
Sounds like a really cool spider! I hope you were able to find out what kind it is.
Linda Skvarla says
Our little lady garden spider has the most beautiful web I hav ever seen. The zig zag looks as it was done on a sewing machine. Thus we named her Singer after the zig zag sewing machine. Unfortunately, we live near ground zero for spotted lantern flies. So I put a couple in her web and she devoured them!
Her entire family is welcomed here! She won’t go hungry, that is for certain
I will be heartbroken when she passes onto the great web in heaven. She is one of God’s beautiful creatures and hope her children grace our garden.
Adrian Whitehead Pilkilton says
We have one on our back porch right now. Her name is Gertrude and we have just fallen in love with her. Her web spans the whole length and width of my window so I’m able to watch her from inside and outside. For her first two weeks, she stayed on the back side of her zigzag, but the couple of days she’s been at the outer edges of her web. I don’t see any sacs yet but I also haven’t seen any boyfriends coming around. She is massive though! I would say she’s at least 3 inches in length. She gets bigger everyday. Such a Queen!!
Denise A Mavis says
we have a HUGE garden spider hanging in the eave over the garage.
there are two round balls at the top of the web. She arrived mid June
Amy Austin says
I also have a yellow orb weaver spider, we have named her ophelia, I just love her so much! i have documented almost everything about her including video of her laying her third egg sac. it took her all night to build the sac. I know her behavior before laying a sac and the amount of days in between sacs. i will be extremely sad come first frost. her sacs are on the siding below and above her web. i also noticed that in the rain she has reversed her position to inward. she is getting rotund again so I think she may lay a fourth sac. I am wishing to put a tube or very large pill bottle somewhere by her web in the hopes she will crawl in it to escape the frost, however i don’t want to interfere with nature. I have photos as close as seeing the hairs on her legs, wow she needs to shave, lolol. Ophelia is a beautiful wonderful lady.
Rachel Jarboe says
In 2019 a beautiful spider, Elektra, set up a web a few months on our living room window in the outdoor plants. She laid an egg sac on our window and died on Oct 2. I protected the egg sac without interference all winter in to spring. However, they never came out of the sac. I watched her for hours that fall of 19!!
This year, 2020, we have Elvira. She’s in the exact same place Elektra was. Has anyone had that happen? Anyways, today she created an egg sac on the window just like Elektra in 2019. It’s so tempting to move her to our garage to protect her. But I suppose I should let nature run her course. ❤️