Garden Variety: Some spiders are friends of gardeners

Kansas is home to a variety of spiders year-round, a few of which earn extra attention in late summer to early fall for their ornate webs and appearance. These garden spiders and orb weavers are friends of gardeners, as they catch and feed on a variety of insects and other spiders. They may seem scary at first because of their size and extensive webs, but learn to recognize these good guys and appreciate them when they make your garden a home.

The two most noticeable species of garden spiders in eastern Kansas are the black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) and banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata).

The black and yellow garden spider is named for its appearance, with irregular, bright yellow markings on a black body with yellow and black to dark brown legs. Adult females are much larger than males, with bodies reaching up to one inch in length and long legs extending out to make it look even larger. Males grow to about a quarter-inch long but are similarly marked to the females.

Female black and yellow garden spiders create large, strong, orb-type webs up to a few feet wide with a distinctive zig-zag band through the middle. They hang out in the center of their webs waiting for insects to venture in, making them seem all the more intimidating.

Female black and yellow garden spiders produce about 1,100 eggs in late summer, then die in late fall. The eggs hatch in fall but spiderlings overwinter in the egg sacs and emerge the following spring.

The banded garden spider is also black and yellow, but with those colors appearing in stripes or bands over a silver abdomen and down the legs. Females reach up to one inch in length but are narrower-bodied than black and yellow garden spiders. Males grow to about a quarter-inch in length and have less coloration.

Banded garden spiders create large orb webs spanning between trees, plants, and other objects in the garden, on prairies, or on the edge of wooded areas to catch insects and other spiders. Females produce several hundred eggs in October and die soon after when freezing temperatures arrive.

Large webs with more discreet spiders are probably the work of an orbweaver, with multiple species common in eastern Kansas. They prefer wooded areas over gardens but can appear there too. They are generally small-bodied and hide at the edge of the web and sometimes are hidden or camouflaged in webbing or foliage.

A few of the orbweavers deserve special mention.

The marbled orbweaver is a half-inch long with black, orange, and yellow coloration that is intricately marbled across the spider’s abdomen. It is considered one of the most beautiful spiders that occur in Kansas.

The eastern arboreal orbweaver is indistinctly black and brown, but produces massive noticeable webs that span distances up to 10 to 15 feet. The spider also has white tufts resembling a number seven on its underside, if you can find the spider to look at in that giant web.

Another indistinct spider with an interesting web is called the bowl and doily spider. Its web literally looks like a silken bowl with a lacy doily hanging below it. The webs are sometimes seen in the garden and more commonly in the understory of wooded areas.

A good reference for identifying spiders in Kansas is A Pocket Guide to Common Kansas Spiders published by Friends of the Great Plains Nature Center. It can be picked up at the center or downloaded for free, or mail-ordered for $3 to cover delivery.