Argiope aurantia

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Geographic Range

These spiders are found from occur from southern Canada south through the lower 48 United States, Mexico, and Central America as far south as Costa Rica. (Milne and Milne, 1980; Platnick, 2004)

Habitat

This species prefers sunny areas among flowers, shrubs, and tall plants. It can be found in many types of habitats, though is not common in the Rocky Mountains or the Canadian Great Basin. (Milne and Milne, 1980)

Physical Description

As is true in many spider species, females of this species grow to much larger size than males. Adult female body length ranges from 19 to 28 mm (3/4 to 1 1/8 in.), while males reach only 5 to 9 mm (1/4 - 3/8 in.). In both sexes, the shiny, egg-shaped abdomen has striking yellow or orange markings on a black background. The forward part of the body, the cephalothorax, is covered with short, silvery hairs. Legs are mostly black, with red or yellow portions near the body. (Dewey, 1993; Milne and Milne, 1980)

Like other orb-weavers (family Araneidae), this species has three claws per foot, one more than most spiders. Orb-weavers use this third claw to help handle the threads while spinning. Also in common with other orb-weaving spiders (and most, but not all spiders generally), A. aurantia has a venomous bite that immobilizes prey that is caught in its web. (Dewey, 1993; Milne and Milne, 1980)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger

Development

In areas with a cold winter, the eggs of this species hatch in the late summer or autumn, but the hatchling spiders become dormant and do not leave the egg sack until the following spring. Hatchlings generally resemble small adults, there are no major changes in anatomy or structure as they grow (except the development of reproductive organs). (Dewey, 1993)

Reproduction

Once they mature, males of this species leave their webs and wander in search of females. When they find them, they wait around the edge of her web, sometimes building small webs of their own. We don't have any information on whether males or females mate more than once, or with more than one partner. Probably each female mates with one or more males. (Faulkner, 1999; Heiber, 1992; Hieber, 1992; Milne and Milne, 1980)

After mating, each female produces one or more (rarely 4, usually less) brown, papery egg sacs. They are roughly round in shape and up to 25 mm in diameter; each contains 300 to 1400 eggs. She attaches her egg sacs to one side of her web, close to her resting position at the center. (Faulkner, 1999; Heiber, 1992; Hieber, 1992; Milne and Milne, 1980)

  • Breeding interval
    Once per year
  • Range number of offspring
    300 to 1400

Each female watches over her eggs as long as she can, but she will die in the first hard frost, if not before. (Faulkner, 1999; Hieber, 1992)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

In temperate climates, the great majority of individuals live a little over a year: from their hatching in the fall until the first hard frost in the following year. However, in warmer climates and in captivity females of this species may live for several years. Males probably die after mating in their first year.

Behavior

If the climate is suitable, Argiope spiders may be active both day and night, attacking insects that are trapped in its web. They often construct and repair their webs after dark, but may do this in day time too. Once they find suitable sites for their webs, they will tend to stay there unless the web is frequently disturbed, or they can't catch enough food there. As noted earlier, adult males roam in search of potential mates, but once they find a female they build small webs nearby and court her. (Dewey, 1993; Dewey, 1993; Faulkner, 1999; Milius, 2000)

Communication and Perception

These spiders have relatively poor vision, but are quite sensitive to vibration and air currents. Males communicate with potential mates by plucking and vibrating the females' webs. (Dewey, 1993)

Food Habits

Like all spiders, black-and-yellow argiopes are carnivorous. They spin an orb web to capture small flying insects such as aphids, flies, grasshoppers, and Hymenoptera (wasps and bees). A female can take prey up to 47mm in diameter, up to 200% of her own size (Nyffeler et al. 1987)

The web can be up to two feet across. The spider hangs, head down, in the center of their web while waiting for prey. Often, she holds her legs together in pairs so that it looks as if there are only four of them. Sometimes the spider may hide in a nearby leaf or grass stem, connected to the center of the web by a nonsticky thread which quivers when prey lands in the web.

Web construction is complicated. To start the web, Argiope firmly grasps a substrate like a grass stem or window frame. She lifts her abdomen and emits several strands of silk from her spinnerets that merge into one thread. The free end of the thread drifts until it touches something far away, like a stem or a flower stalk. She then creates bridge lines, and other scaffolding to help her build the framework of the web. She builds a hub with threads radiating from it like a spokes of a wheel. She switches to sticky silk for the threads spiraling around this hub that will actually catch her prey. It may take a few hours to complete the web, then she eats the temporary scaffolding and the center hub. Argiope spiders often add stabilimenta, or heavy zig-zagging portions, in their webs. A stabilimentum may or may not aid prey capture (see below). The entire web is usually eaten and then rebuilt each night, often in the same place. (Dewey, 1993; Faulkner, 1999; Lyon, 1995; Milne and Milne, 1980; Nyffeler, et al., 1987; Zschokke, 2006)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Predation

When disturbed, the spider might first vibrate the web to try to make its body look bigger, but if that fails to deter a predator she will drop to the ground and hide (Faulkner 1999). Adults may be captured by wasps such as the Blue Mud Dauber, Chalybion californicum (Landes et al. 1987). They are also eaten by birds, lizards, and shrews.

Overwintering egg cases protect spiderlings from predation. Suspending the cocoon from the web is particularly effective against ant predation. The vast majority, however, are eventually damaged by birds. Cocoons wall layers provide barriers against burrowing larvae of insect predators and ovipositors of parasitic insects, but ichneumonid wasps such as Tromatopia rufopectus and chloropid flies such as Pseudogaurax signatus lay their eggs in Argiope aurantia egg cases. In fact, one study found that in addition to A. aurantia, nineteen species of insects and eleven species of spiders emerged from A. aurantia egg cases. (Hieber 1993, Lockley and Young 1993). (Faulkner, 1999; Hieber, 1992; Landes, et al., 1987; Lockley and Young, 1993)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Researchers study the biochemistry of web production and venom action of this spider. Results from these studies may aid the fields of materials science and neurophysiology.

Argiope species are important predators of grasshoppers in rangeland ecosystems.

Conservation Status

These common and widespread spiders have no special conservation status.

Other Comments

Although people are concerned about being bitten by these large spiders, they are not considered dangerous. They may bite when harassed, but apparently the venom does not cause problems for humans. (Lyon 1995)

The function of web stabilimenta is controversial. At least 78 species of spiders add these structures to their webs, originally named "stabilimenta" because they were thought to provide structural stability. One study of Argiope spiders supports the idea that these bright white structures attract flying insects (Tso 1998). Contrary to this "prey attraction hypothesis," hungry spiders build fewer or smaller stabilimenta, and webs with stabilimenta capture fewer prey (Blackledge 1998, Blackledge and Wenzel 1999). A competing hypothesis is that the highly visible threads prevent birds from flying through and destroying the webs. Spiders of another species, Octonoba sybotides, vary their stabilimenta in order to control thread tension. Different tensions allow a spider to detect prey of different sizes. However, this mechanical hypothesis doesn't explain why only diurnal spiders use stabilimenta. (Milius 2000). (Blackledge and Wenzel, 1999; Blackledge, 1998; Lyon, 1995; Milius, 2000; Tso, 1998)

Contributors

George Hammond (author), Animal Diversity Web.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

aposematic

having coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chaparral

Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

diapause

a period of time when growth or development is suspended in insects and other invertebrates, it can usually only be ended the appropriate environmental stimulus.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

hibernation

the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

polygynandrous

the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

venomous

an animal which has an organ capable of injecting a poisonous substance into a wound (for example, scorpions, jellyfish, and rattlesnakes).

vibrations

movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Blackledge, T. 1998. Stabilimentum variation and foraging success in Argiope aurantia and Argiope trifasciata (Araneae: Araneidae). Journal of Zoology, 246(1): 21-27.

Blackledge, T., J. Wenzel. 1999. Do stabilimenta in orb webs attract prey or defend spiders?. Behavioral Ecology, 10(4): 372-376.

Dewey, J. 1993. Spiders near and far. New York: Penguin Books.

Faulkner, D. 1999. "San Diego Natural History Museum: Argiope aurantia, Golden Garden Spider." (On-line). Accessed 12 September 2000 at http://www.sdnhm.org/fieldguide/inverts/argi-aur.html.

Heiber, C. 1992. The role of spider cocoons in controlling desiccation. Oecologia, 89: 442-448.

Hieber, C. 1992. Spider cocoons and their suspension systems as barriers to generalist and specialist predators. Oecologia, 91: 530-535.

Landes, D., M. Obin, A. Cady, J. Hunt. 1987. Seasonal and latitudinal variation in spider prey of the mud dauber Chalybion californicum (Hymenoptera:Sphecidae). Journal of Arachnology, 15: 249-256.

Lockley, T., O. Young. 1993. Survivability of overwintering Argiope aurantia (Araneidae) egg cases, with an annotated list of associated arthropods. Journal of Arachnology, 21(1): 50-54.

Lyon, W. 1995. "Spiders in and around the home." (On-line). Accessed 12 September 2000 at http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~ohioline/hyg-fact/2000/2060.html.

Milius, S. 2000. Hungry spiders tune up web jiggliness. Science News, 157: 198.

Milne, L., M. Milne. 1980. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Nyffeler, M., D. Dean, W. Sterling. 1987. Feeding ecology of the orb-weaving spider Argiope aurantia (Araneae, Araneidae) in a cotton agroecosystem. Entomophaga, 32: 367-376.

Platnick, N. 2004. "Fam. Araneidae, Simon 1895" (On-line). The World Spider Catalog, V4.5. Accessed May 21, 2004 at http://research.amnh.org/entomology/spiders/catalog/ARANEIDAE.html.

Tso, I. 1998. Isolated spider web stabilimentum attracts insects. Behaviour, 135(3): 311-319.

Zschokke, S. 2006. "Orb-web construction" (On-line). Accessed 01/21/06 at http://www.conservation.unibas.ch/team/zschokke/webconstruction.html.