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Quest for the Golden Garden Spider

Originally published on 23 September 2010

banded garden spider - Argiope trifasciata

Banded Garden Spider

Argiope trifasciata

While growing up in Cedarburg, it seemed like these spiders were anywhere you found long enough grass. I spent a lot of time outdoors, so maybe it is just my recollection. The other day my four-year-old daughter Ella got her monthly "Big Backyard" magazine. She found a picture of one and asked me what it was. I had all but forgotten about these somewhat menacing-looking creatures. I said they were the giant spiders that lived in the field. I told her we were going to find a real one. She was excited. We set out a couple of days later to the Shoreland Nature Preserve in Mequon in search of one. Lots of tall grass there! After walking down the trail for a bit, I realized they weren't everywhere like I remembered. Maybe that's the reason I forgot about them. After searching for quite some time with no luck, we went home.

The next day we ventured out again to find this now rare and elusive animal. We decided to look in the field near our house. Again, not a one. Now we are getting serious, so off we go to Huiras Lake, where there is plenty of long grass, to see if they are out there. Again, we came up empty-handed.

It was time to make some calls. Someone had to know what was going on. I talked with a naturalist who had seen some at his workplace. Great, I wasn't crazy. So I called a friend, and she said she would look in her garden. She's seen them before. I got the call back with a "none there." A few days later, my friend called back and said she had found one! The next day I took Ella over there, and we found a bunch of them in the garden. OK, I see why they call them garden spiders. Ella was happy to see one but was more comfortable looking for them. It's the journey.

Fast forward twelve years to summer 2022, and I was reminded of these spiders again. I had not seen one since then and again set out to find one. I called my friend who still lived at the same property, but she did see any this time. So I had to start from scratch. I found out the spider I found in 2010 was not a Golden garden spider but a Banded garden spider. Both of these are Argiope spiders that belong to the family Araneidae. Both are the same size and live in the same habitats. Garden spiders are found throughout the continental United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America.

These spiders produce venom that is harmless to humans but helps to immobilize prey like flies, bees, and other flying insects caught in the web. The garden spider's web contains an obvious zigzagging X-shaped pattern called a stabilimentum. The exact function of the stabilimentum is unknown, but its purpose may be to alert birds to the presence of the web so that they don't fly through and destroy it by mistake. The spider may eat and respin its web each night.

You will see them later in the summer or fall. Now I will have to wait another year to find one. They are rare and elusive. Perhaps there are fewer now than when I was young, or my memory of them is exaggerated. Happy hunting!

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