An Argiope Aurantia came to visit us a week ago. Carol didn't want her to stay, but Michael and I were intrigued and decided to let her homestead if she wanted to. We made sure we stayed out of her way, and also made sure she stayed outside. Miss Aurantia is an Orb Weaver arachnid – a spider in the Araneidae family. She has many names and our favorite is Golden Garden Spider.
When the Orb Weaver first appeared outside our dining room window, her leg-span was about one and a half inches from front leg tip to rear leg tip while perched on her web, and her web was about twelve inches in diameter. She is fast, and anything that hits her circular web becomes breakfast. Now, a week later, her leg-span is close to three inches, and her web is almost two-feet wide. There are over 2,800 species of Orbers in the world, but only about 180 live in North America.
These critters look vicious – especially when they are as large as Miss Aurantia outside our window – but they pose no threat to either people or pets. They don't like to interact with humans and will run and hide if we get too close. They are quite content to be left alone to do their spider business. If one does bite, it was only a last-ditch effort because someone got too close and it couldn't escape. But don't worry; the bite is usually as irritating as a bee sting or as exasperating as a mosquito bite. Watch where you walk because it's really frustrating to walk into an orb web.
Miss Aurantia tears down her web every night and rebuilds it. The bigger she grows, the bigger she makes her net, and it's an amazing 2–3-hour process! She first removes the damaged web, then places her anchors for a new one. Then she begins, amazingly, from the outside and works toward the middle. She decides the diameter she wants, then begins the arduous job of going around in circles. The web strands are all equally spaced, and at her present size, Miss Aurantia places them about 1/4 of an inch apart.
We've seen her catch everything from gnats to butterflies to 3-inch-long dragonflies. Hummingbirds come up often to look at her, but they have enough common sense to leave her alone. However, I've read that larger orb web weavers have caught hummingbirds and frogs.
What I've written so far reveals that these spiders, actually most spiders, are not foes, but I need to point out one sobering fact. Throughout the 1900s, there were around 100 deaths that were proven to have been due to spider bites. But in the same century, about 1,500 people died from jellyfish stings.
How about this bit of data? Yesterday I read that every year approximately 25 million tons of spiders around the world eat well over 500 million tons of insects, bugs, frogs, other spiders, some birds and a lot of other unsuspecting victims.
I opened the silverware drawer some time ago to get a spoon and saw a large, healthy grass spider waiting for its next meal. I don't know how long it had been in the house, but with my wife's arachnophobia, I sucked it up with the vacuum cleaner. If it had been outside, I wouldn't have bothered it.
Most spider legs don't have muscles but work by hydraulic pressure. That's why spider legs curl up when they die. Believe it or not, larger spiders are cooked for food.
Spider silk is among the strongest and toughest materials in the natural world. It's as strong as some steel alloys with a toughness even greater than bulletproof Kevlar vests. In 1973, Skylab 3 took two orb-web spiders into space to test their web-spinning capabilities in zero gravity. At first, both produced rather sloppy webs, but they adapted quickly.
For years I wondered why God created creepy spiders. But when I began to understand how they benefit man, and how harmless the vast majority are, I like them. The only creepy thing about them is our thoughts. God created them to help hold down the bug population and they do an excellent job.
Miss Aurantia, our resident Golden Garden Orb Weaver, is our friend. I won't wash the window as long as she is homesteading here. But she better never build a web across my doorway because walking through a sticky web is no fun.
- S. Eugene Linzey is an author, mentor and speaker. Send comments and questions to [email protected] Visit his web site at www.genelinzey.com.