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Posts Tagged ‘Argiope aurantia’

Spiders are really cool and I always marvel at the elaborate webs they weave out of material from their own bodies. Almost all my shots of Black and Yellow Garden Spiders (Argiope aurantia) have been taken from the front, primarily because the webs are generally in inaccessible locations. However, the placement of this spider’s web that I spotted recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge allowed me to view and photograph it from this unusual side angle.

It is always fun to play around and attempt to capture images of a subject from multiple perspectives. In this case, the spider was cooperative and I was able to capture this cool little portrait.

Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies are fierce predators that eat a wide variety of insects. However, predators can easily become prey, as was the case with this male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) that encountered a Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver Spider (Argiope aurantia). When I spotted this pair last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, the spider had already immobilized the dragonfly and may have been injecting it with venom at that moment.

dragonfly and spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever tried to wrap a present that is large and awkwardly shaped? I have childhood memories of helping my parents wrap tricycles and wagons for my younger siblings on Christmas Eve. No matter how much wrapping paper I used, it was pretty obvious what was underneath the wrapping.

I have watched Black and Yellow Garden Spiders (Argiope aurantia) capture prey multiple times. After the initial capture, the spider wraps up its prey in a special kind of silk that looks like a long gauze bandage. (Check out my 2014 posting called “Wrapping up a meal” for a more detailed explanation and some close-up shots of the wrapping process.)

When I spotted this Black and Yellow Garden Spider on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I could see from a distance that the spider had captured something that was as large as it was, but I could not determine what it was. Once I got closer, I could see that the spider had awkwardly wrapped up what appeared to be a large cicada—it was impossible to hide the shape of the cicada’s large wings.

At some point in this process the spider injects venom into the prey, killing it and liquefying its internal organs for consumption. I cannot tell for sure if that is what the spider was doing at the moment I captured this image, but the position of the spider’s body suggests that possibility.

Spider and cicada

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I have observed animals, birds, and animals, I have noticed that sometimes the male is larger than the female and sometimes the opposite is the case. Quite often the size difference is so slight that you have to rely on other characteristics to try to determine the gender of a subject.

When it comes to spiders, though, the size difference is shockingly large—the male is often one quarter the size of the female or even smaller. On Monday I spotted my first black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) of the season. I have long been fascinated with these large spiders and the distinctive zigzag pattern that they weave into their webs.

When I looked at my images on my computer, I was surprised to see that there was a second, smaller spider just to the left and behind the main subject. Could this possibly be a male garden spider? According to Wikipedia, males range in size from .2-.35 inches (5-9 mm) and females range in size from .75 to 1.1 inches (18 to 28 mm), so the size differential seems about right. Additional the smaller spider looks like photos I was able to find of male garden spiders.

Spider mating can hazardous for male spiders. In some species, if the male is rejected by the female, she eats him. I thought that might be the case for these garden spiders, but came across a fascinating article at newscientist.com with the sensationalist title “Spider sex causes spontaneous death” that suggests something stranger than cannibalism.

According to a study conducted at Concordia University and the University of California, “Researchers found that for male orb-weaving spiders of the species Argiope aurantia completing copulation leads to certain death. The deceased suitor’s corpse is then trapped in the female genitalia. This may be a strategy to prevent other males from subsequently mating with the female, say the scientists.” The scientists determined that the female did nothing to kill the males who died spontaneously and concluded, “The females do sometimes remove and devour their dead mates. But the researchers do not think the death program evolved to give her a post-sex snack, as the males are too tiny to provide much nutrition.”

Nature can be wild, weird, and wonderful and endlessly fascinating. I guess that is what prompted the scientists to carefully study 100 pairs of spiders mating. 🙂


Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do spiders decide where to place their webs? Is there some special secret that is passed on from generation to generation about optimal web placement for capturing prey? I know that human fisherman and trappers look for specific conditions and wonder if it is the same with spiders.

Whatever the case, this Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) appears to have mastered her trapping skills and looks to have caught both a female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) and what I think is some kind of female grasshopper. I am not really sure about the latter victim, but that is what I believe the green-colored object is in the image.

Often I see the webs of this kind of spider in fairly thick vegetation, but this web was hanging in mid-air about six feet high at the edge of a small pond last weekend at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The murky grayness in the upper right portion of the image is the water of the pond. In the left hand side you can see some of the web strands that tenuously connected the web to some nearby vegetation. This spider would not have one any contests for the beauty of its web, but there is no arguing with its success in capturing prey.

argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some people see spiders as creepy and others see them as cool. I am definitely in the latter category and was happy to spot this Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) during a recent trip to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

I love the zigzag pattern that is a distinctive characteristic of the webs constructed by this species of spider and was thrilled that I managed to capture the zigzag in this shot. This spider is pretty common and has a lot of different common names including zigzag spider, writing spider, yellow garden spider, and golden garden spider. Zigzag Spiders can get to be pretty big and I have seen them capture large prey including, alas, dragonflies. It is amazing to see how fast the spider is able to wrap up its captured prey in web material. In case you have never witnessed the process, here’s a link to a 2017 posting that shows a spider wrapping up a freshly caught damselfly.

zigzag spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When you shoot with a zoom lens, you can change the look of an image without moving from where you are standing. That can be an advantage, but it can also be a disadvantage, because it can discourage you from exploring different angles or different perspectives.

I really enjoy shooting with a lens of a fixed focal length, especially my macro lens, because it forces me to think more about composition. If I decide that I want the subject to be larger in the frame, I have to move physically closer to the subject. If the terrain doesn’t let me get any closer, then I have to consciously consider how else I could frame the shot.

This past weekend I saw a lot of black and yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia) when I was exploring Jackson Miles Wetland Refuge, a small park not too far from where I live. Some of the spiders were in bushes and others were overhanging the water of a small pond. It was a fun challenge to figure out how to photograph the spiders in different and interesting ways.

In the first shot, I decided to shoot the spider from the side rather than from the front as I normally do. I was delighted to see the way the the shape of the vegetation in the background almost matched the shape of the spider’s legs.

I also photographed the spider in the second image from the side, but the leafy backdrop and the inclusion of more of the spider’s web gives the image a completely different feel as compared to the first one.

When I saw the spider in the third image overhanging the water, I loved the shape of its body and its extended legs. If I had had a zoom lens, I am pretty sure I would have zoomed in on the spider. When processing the image, I was also tempted to crop in closely. I remember when I was shooting, though, that I deliberately included the vegetation on the left hand side, because I liked the way that it looked. So the image that you see is pretty much the one that I chose when I shot it, having zoomed in as closely as my feet would allow (without getting really wet). Despite my normal desire to fill my frame with my subject, I think it was good that I was not able to do so in this case.

argiope spider

argiope spider

argiope spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Even if you find spiders a bit creepy (which I don’t), you can’t help but admire the beauty and artistry of their webs. This spider, which I think is a Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia), went a little crazy with its zigzag pattern this past weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Most of the time the webs of these spiders have a single zigzag pattern that leads to the center of the web. This spider, which seemed smaller than many of the others of this species that I have seen, for some unknown reason decided to repeat the pattern multiple times, which helped me to spot the web more easily.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Although some folks find spiders to be creepy, I look at them as wonderfully creative architects and artists and I was thrilled to capture this image of one in its web that I spotted early yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I have found that early morning is the best time to get shots of spider webs and they tend to show up best in shots that are backlit, which is to say that light is shining from the front. In this case I tried to frame the shot carefully for maximum effect and did not have to crop the image at all.

web art

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When a Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) traps a prey in its web, it often moves so quickly to wrap it up completely that it is difficult to identify the prey. That was not the case with the damselfly that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it was being encased in a silken shroud.

The damselfly looks to be a bluet damselfly and if pressed, I’d guess that it might be a Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile) or possibly a Big Bluet (Enallagma durum). The spider seems to be experiencing the same kind of problem that I encounter when I am trying to wrap an awkwardly-shaped present at Christmas time—it is hard to be neat and tidy, the process uses up lots of wrapping material, and the package always end up irregularly shaped and easy to identify.

spider and damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

 

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“Beautiful Spider”—I know that some people would consider that an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. I, however, am fascinated with spiders and photographed this Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge as carefully as if I were doing a beauty shot in a photo studio. The spider had constructed her web on some vegetation overhanging a small pond, which is why  I was able to get such an uncluttered gray background.

Argiope aurantia

Earlier this month I captured an image of a spider of the same species while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge—this seems to be the prime season for these spiders, which I have seen at multiple locations. This image shows well the amazing reach of the spider’s amazingly long legs and, as was the case in the first image, shows the ziz-zag portion of the web that is associated with this species.

Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The beautiful Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is often featured in conservation efforts that focus on its dwindling numbers and shrinking habitat. It was therefore a little disconcerting to stumble upon a Monarch that had been ensnared in the web of a Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) during a visit this past weekend to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I have no idea how long the butterfly had been in the web, but it appeared to be totally immobilized. Spiders like this one, known also as Yellow Garden Spiders or Writing Spiders, kill their prey by injecting venom and often wrap them up in web material for later consumption.

I considered cropping this image to focus more attention on the spider and the butterfly, but ultimately decided that I liked the context provided by the elements of the spider’s web and the murky, out-of-focus background.

 

spider and Monarch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

 

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I’m always happy to see a black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia). I love its colorful patterns and its intricate web (and apologies to readers who are totally creeped out by spiders). I spotted this beauty this past weekend in a patch of goldenrod at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge.

Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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After a summer of not seeing many spiders, I was thrilled recently to spot this orbweaver spider as it dealt with an unidentified prey that it had captured.

Most of the large spiders that I observe are Black and Yellow Garden spiders (Argiope aurantia), but this one looks different from the ones that I have previously seen, especially in the first image. It may be that I am used to seeing the spider only in the center of her web, as in the second image, or perhaps this is a different spider species.

This was an unusual case for me, because I spotted the spider as I was walking through a field of waist-high vegetation and I was able to get pretty close to the spider and get these shot with my macro lens. Generally, I am forced to photograph spiders like this from a distance (which most people probably think is a good idea anyways).

There are some subjects, like cute birds, that I photograph that I know will have a broad appeal, but past experience has shown me that spiders tend to divide people into two camps—some people are fascinate and think spiders are totally cool, while others are thoroughly creeped out and find spiders to be repulsive.

What do you think about spiders?

orbweaver spider

orbweaver spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It had been quite a while since I had last seen a Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia), so I was pretty excited to see one during a visit this past weekend to Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, a tidal wetlands park along the Potomac River in Virginia.

The spider must have sensed my presence too, because she began to oscillate the entire web vigorously. I had to wait for her to settle down before attempting to get some shots. I was on an elevated boardwalk and the spider was considerably below the level of my feet. As a result, I had somewhat limited options for framing my shots, though I was able to photograph the spider from a couple of different angles, and was not able to get really close to the spider.

I was happy that I managed to capture the really cool zigzag portion of the spider’s web, a distinctive characteristic of this particular species.

Argiope spider

Argiope spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m not big on ghosts and goblins, so to celebrate Halloween I though I’d include a few recent images of spiders that I have not posted previously. Some of my readers may find certain spiders to be creepy and utterly appropriate for Halloween, though I tend to view as beautiful creatures, many of which are capable of creating beautiful web art.

Happy Halloween to all.

NOTE: If you click on any one of the images in the mosaic, you will be taken into slide show mode, where you will see larger versions of the images (when you are viewing the original posting).

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The more I watch spiders, the more I am fascinated by them. I used to think that spiders extruded only a single kind of silk, but I have learned that many spiders have multiple spinneret glands that are used for producing different kinds of silk.

One of the most amazing kinds of silk is known as aciniform silk, according to Wikipedia, which is used to wrap up and immobilize prey. This silk looks like a long gauze bandage as it is extruded by the spider.

Last month, I watched as a large Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver spider(Argiope aurantia) wrapped up a recently captured bee. I was amazed at how quickly it accomplished the mission, spinning the prey as it wound multiple layers of silk around it. Here are a couple of shot I took that show the spinnerets in action.

I loved the reaction of one of my friend to the first photo. He imagined the bee protesting being wrapped in bandages saying, “Hey, you’re not my doctor!”

Argiope aurantiaArgiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Finally I am starting to see some of the Yellow Garden Orbweaver spiders (Argiope aurantia) that fascinated me so much last summer. These spiders are big and colorful and have awesome webs with a distinctive zigzag section. I will be keeping an eye on the spiders to see if I can observe them catching prey and wrapping it up in silk.

Stay tuned for more spiders., most likely coming pretty soon to the blog—this spider is just the first fall installment.

argiope_web1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Throughout much of the summer I posted photos Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver spiders (Argiope aurantia). Having not spotted one in several weeks,  that they were gone until next year. I was happy to be wrong, however, and photographed one yesterday. I was even more delighted that the background colors work well for autumn and for Halloween (and nothing says Halloween more than a creepy spider).

Autumn spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The large yellow-and-black spiders (Argiope aurantia) that I have observed throughout the summer seem to have disappeared. I was hoping to see the egg sacs that they produce in the fall, but I guess I’ll have to wait until next year.

However, there must be spiders still around, because early yesterday morning there were quite a few dew-covered spider webs. Last month I did a couple of postings about webs at the same location at Huntley Meadows Park (see Amazing Spider Webs and More Spider Art), but I am so fascinated by the individuality of the webs that I thought I’d post one from yesterday (and I think there might be a few more shots coming). I do not know how the spiders figure out the designs of the webs, but it seems that there is creativity involved in fitting a web into a specific spot, even if there is a “standard” pattern for different varieties of spiders.

This web was located behind the railing of a little bridge that crosses part of the marsh land and joins two sections of a boardwalk. I was shooting into the sun that was still very low in the sky. The sunlight reflecting on one side of the railing suggests that I was not facing directly east. but was angled a little. Behind the web is a field of cattails, though you can’t really see any details.

Spider webs are like snowflakes for me (and it won’t be too long before we see them again). At first they all may seem to be the same, but when you take the time to look more closely at them, you realize each is unique. People are like that too.

Early morning spider web

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Recently I have become fascinated with spiders, and in particular the Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver spiders (Argiope aurantia). I’ve spent an amazing amount of time observing them and their webs. Already I have posted photos of the spiders themselves, their webs, and several types of prey that they have captured and wrapped in silk.

This past Monday I observed what I think was a spider actually feeding on a victim that I can’t quite identify. For some reason I used to think that spiders ate solid food, but now I understand that they have a mostly liquid diet. According to an article at earthlife.net, the mouth parts of these spiders have a serrated edge to cut into the prey and a filtering edge covered in fine hairs that prevents solid particles from entering the spider’s mouth. This filtering system is so fine that only particles smaller than 1 micron (0.001 of a mm) can pass through. The spider’s venom has enzymes which can help liquify the insides of a victim and the spider may also excrete digestive juices onto the victim. Spiders then have a sucking stomach that helps them ingest the liquids.

Argiope aurantia feeding on captured prey

Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that I rotated the image 90 degrees counterclockwise to make it easier to see what is going on. Note the positions of some of the spider’s legs as she cradles her victim. If you click on the image, you will get a higher-resolution view of the spider. My apologies if I have been too graphic in describing this spider’s digestive process.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have repeatedly observed a small spider or two hanging around the periphery of the web of the large Yellow Garden Orbweaver spiders (Argiope aurantia) that I have been photographing recently. Initially I thought it might be the male of the species, which is considerably smaller than the female, but when I finally took a clear enough photo of one of these small spiders, I realized it was a different species.

My research suggests that this is a kleptoparasitic spider. Let me explain. It may sound like I’m trying to sound like a scientist, but “kleptoparasitism” is a single word that captures the idea that this spider steals or feed on the prey captured by another spider. According to Wikipedia, kleptoparasitic spiders occur in five different families and I am pretty sure the little spider below is of the genus Argyrodes, which are also called dewdrop spiders.

Kleptoparastic spider eyes another spider’s catch

Let me set the scene for you. The much larger Yellow Garden Orbweaver spider caught what looks like a bee and returned to the center of the web, leaving the wrapped bee on the periphery. The little spider moved in and appears to be checking out this potential new food source. Compare the relative size of the spider and the bee—the spider is tiny. That made it tougher to get a clear shot of both the spider and the captured bee. My shot is far from perfect, but it does allow you to see some of the details (and you can get a higher resolution view if you click on the image).

It seems to me that the little spider plays a risky game, living with (and maybe stealing food from) a larger, more dangerous spider. Maybe he’s a thrill-seeker, an adrenaline junkie who enjoys living in a state of constant danger.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was going through some photos this morning I realized that I have a lot of photos of the Yellow Garden Orbweaver spider (Argiope aurantia). I have posted quite a few photos, but most have shown the spider with a prey. I came across an image of the spider by herself and started playing with it in Photoshop Elements. This first image is the result of my experimentation—it is cropped and rotated and focuses on only part of the subject. I think it is a little more dramatic thank the original image. (You can get a higher resolution view of all of the images if you click on them.)

Creeping spider

You can see below the original image after a minor crop. I remember when I took the shot that I had to twist my body around to get the desired angle of view of the spider in the center of her web, waiting patiently for prey. This morning I initially liked the image a lot and was going to post it, but then decided to rotate it 90 degrees to see what it looked like.

Side view of spider

After the rotation, it looked like the image below. It seems to me that by simply shifting the plane of view, the spider appears like more of a predator, like she is more aggressively stalking her prey rather than waiting for it to arrive. I keep going back and forth in trying to decided if I like this image more than the cropped image that I started with. What do you think? Which of the three images do you like most?

Creeping spider (full body)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m amazed at the size and intricacy of the webs of the Yellow Garden Orbweaver spiders (Argiope aurantia) whenever I see them at Huntley Meadows Park here in Alexandria, VA. This past weekend I had a chance to see how effective these webs are when a bee flew into the web of a spider that I was observing.

Previously I posted some photos of these spider with prey (a grasshopper and a cicada) that had been captured earlier and wrapped up in silk, but I didn’t really understand how the spider accomplished this. In this case, as soon as the bee touched the web, the spider moved quickly from the center of the web and in a few seconds had wrapped up its newest victim. I was so fascinated by what was happening in front of my eyes that my reaction time was delayed and I missed photographing those initial actions. However, I stayed and observed (and photographed) the spider’s subsequent actions.

The first photo below shows the spider as she is wrapping up the wrapping up of the bee. It’s a little hard to believe that the long package is just a bee, but I’m pretty sure that’s all that there is inside. (With all three photos, you can click on them and get a somewhat higher resolution view.) After the bee had finished, she left the package at the periphery of the web and returned to the center of the web, where she usually resides, probably hoping for another victim.

After several minutes wait, she returned to the bee and and began to transport it to the center of the web. In the photo below, you can see how she held the wrapped-up bee with some of her legs as she crawled along the strands of the web. The zigzag portion of the web is part of the path that leads to the center.

Once she was back in the center, it looks like she was preparing to eat her newly captured meal. I really like the varied positions of her legs in this photo as she holds on to her prey.

You may have noticed the blurry contours of another, smaller spider in the upper portion of the final photo. There were two small spiders hanging around the web and they seemed to be fighting with one another. I tried to capture that dynamic and will post a photo if I find one that is clear enough. I suspect that one of them may have been the mate of the female spider. Bugguide notes that the male of this species is considerably smaller than the female. Not counting legs, the male is usually 5-6 mm in size and the female is 14-25mm. I am not sure who the “other guy” was. Maybe he’s another male competing for the affections of this “lovely” lady. Any ideas?

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A few days ago I posted a photo of a Yellow Garden Orbweaver (Argiope aurantia) that I photographed at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, VA. I was strangely attracted to those spiders and returned the next day to see if I could get a few more shots.

Here is one of my favorite shots from that day. The spider looks to be gnawing on the leg of a grasshopper that has been wrapped up and seems to be a little dried out. The grasshopper actually looks like he has been battered and deep-fried, but that seems to be a bit over the top, even for a Southern spider. You can also see a little of the zigzag pattern of the web at the bottom of the photo that is typical of the webs of this kind of orbweaver.

Yellow Garden Orbweaver Spider and Grasshopper (click on the photo to see more details)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This weekend a fellow photographer (Christy T.) pointed out some really interesting looking spiders while we were at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, VA. They were very colorful and big (at least they seemed really big, especially when looking through a telephoto lens). I had walked by the area where they were located (and there were probably at least ten of them), but had not noticed them until she prompted me to look more closely.

The spider (Argiope aurantia) goes by many different names including Black and Yellow Argiope, Yellow Garden Orbweaver, Writing Spider, and Yellow Garden Spider, according to BugGuide. These spiders had large webs with a very distinctive zigzag pattern in the center, which I learned from Wikipedia is called a stabilimentum. (I’m still going through my shots from yesterday when I returned to visit the spiders and may post a shot showing the zigzag pattern in a later post). Nobody seems to know for sure why they make that zigzag pattern, perhaps for camouflage or to attract prey.

One of the other really cool things about this spider is that it oscillates the web really vigorously when it feels threatened. My fellow photographer demonstrated this when she touched a web with a tripod’s leg (she did not want to get any closer). It was amazing to see the elasticity of the web as the spider moved—it reminded me of a slingshot being pulled back.

These spiders seem to catch some pretty big prey. There were grasshoppers in some of the webs and in the photo below the spider has captured a cicada. The Wikipedia article notes that the spider kills the prey by injecting its venom and then wraps it in a cocoon of silk for later consumption (typically 1–4 hours later). I think the spider in the photo may be in the process of wrapping up the cicada.

I continue to be amazed by the fascinating things that are in front of me that I have never seen before. It’s clear to me that my photographic journey is causing me to see the world differently, more attentively. That’s a good thing.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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