Banded Argiope: September Spider Watching

On September mornings, as soon as I complete a check of migrating warblers, I walk through the prairie wildflowers looking for spider webs.

When there has been rain during the night or the plants are wet with morning dew, the moisture-covered webs are quite visible, especially when one walks toward the sun.

My favorite webs are the large circular webs made by orbweavers.And my favorite ordweaver species is Banded Argiope (also known as Banded Garden Spider). It is present in Eliza Howell Park every September.

Banded Argiope is a diurnal hunter and, different from many other spiders, is often visibly present in middle of the web. It hangs head down, seen here from both sides.

It holds its legs together as it waits motionless, almost looking as though it has only 4 legs instead of 8.

The vibration of the webbing tells it that a flying insect has hit the snare, It then moves with amazing speed to grab the prey and immobilize it before it can break free, wrapping it quickly in silk.

I was web watching recently * when the spider suddenly sped to a Milkweed Bug that had hit the web, quickly securing it for later consumption. (* I thank Kathy Garrett for first calling my attention to this particular web location.)

It was still at this task when a Yellowjacket struck another part of the web. It was on that instantly.

Until the spider is ready to eat, the prey hangs from the web, usually near the center. When I left a short while after it had successfully caught two sizable insects, the spider was waiting for something more, not yet indulging.

In this photo, the Yellowjacket can be seen attached to the web above the spider, the Milkweed Bug below.

Many times I just admire the webs, which the spiders reconstruct every night. When the web is wet, the design is visible and fascinating. It is (nearly) invisible when dry, not seen by the insects that fly into it.

One report claimed that Banded Argiope orient their webs on an East – West axis. I have only observed a couple of their webs since reading that report and these two webs did fit the described pattern. I will need to see more, however, before I feel confident determining directions from these webs on a cloudy day in an unfamiliar location. If correct, this would add to the fascinating behavior of a favorite September spider.

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