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The Daily Bucket is a place where we share our observations about the natural world. Whether we note the first flowers of spring or the appearance of a new bug, we are building a resource to learn more about the patterns of nature and how they may be changing. Everyone is welcome to contribute!  Just tell us what you are seeing in your backyard or wherever you are roaming and approximately where your observations come from.
Gooseville, WI

For me, it's the startle factor of an unexpected close encounter with a large spider while weeding the garden that causes the sharp involuntary gasp of air imploding in my chest while jerking backwards. Sometimes, it's just the creepy tickle of walking face first into a large web.

I'm fascinated by spiders, yet I'm always a bit embarrassed by my strong reaction to that startle factor, but I suspect this happens to most.  

black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia)

As autumn approaches and the angle of the sun gets lower I've been noticing the many delicate dew coated orbs scattered throughout the bushes, flowers and taller grasses of my yard.

These harmless garden spiders are also called 'writing spiders' and I can clearly read the Vs, Ws, Xs, Ys and Zs written in their webs. At the center of their two foot orbs are densely woven zigzags called stabilimentum running vertically down the middle. E.B White also noticed them.  

The yellow and black female is visually striking with the length of an inch and a half. She's an active daytime predator and hunts from her web in a head-down position, waiting.

A garden spider will hang her web in a sunny place, sheltered from the wind and at a height of two to eight feet off the ground.

I figure that allows rabbits and small critters to pass under and birds to fly over without breaking the stability of her web. Each night she eats the concentric circles and fancy zigzags of her web and reweaves a fresh new replacement by early morning.    

The much smaller male will court his mate by artfully plucking the strings of her web and hopefully, not be eaten during the task. After mating, he dies, if not eaten first.

She lays her eggs on one side of the web, then spins a silky bag and covers it with a papery sac. The egg sac can contain over a thousand eggs and be up to an inch wide.

She'll guard her eggs diligently, while slowly dying. (it's time to re-read 'Charlotte's Web' to a child) The baby spiders will hatch in autumn, but stay inside the sac, hunkered-down, through winter. In spring, the youngsters leave the safety of their sac and go off to weave their own handwritten orbs.

Spiders are abundant in most habitats and considered to be the most important of all terrestrial predators. They're generalist predators and are willing to eat almost any insect they can catch.

These colorful companions in my garden are very welcome, but I really wish to know where they hangout so I can be prepared to meet them on my own terms, hopefully without involving my startle factor.

photos by Jean Upton
Did I mention that they're generalist predators and willing to eat almost anything they catch?

So what's new in your neighborhood? Got spiders? Got startle factors?

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Wed Aug 15, 2012 at 09:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by J Town and Badger State Progressive.

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