Charlotte’s not the only spider that writes

Published 10:25 pm Tuesday, October 13, 2015

By Biff and Susan Andrews

Fall is the time for spiders and spider webs. No species is more striking in its web or its appearance than the writing spider, with its silver face, yellow-and-black body and vivid, X-shaped webbing.

As with all of God’s creatures, they make for fascinating study.

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“Argiope aurentia” is also known as the zipper spider, scribbler, black-and-yellow garden spider and corn spider.

The female is about five times larger than the male, which will become more germane later in our discussion. It is her black and yellow abdomen that is so bright. The X-pattern of her legs matches the X-pattern of her web writing as she waits at the center for prey (mainly insects).

The web is a nearly invisible sticky gossamer about two feet across. It’s so sticky that she has to replace the center nearly every day — after eating the old webbing — with legs that have a nonstick coating.

But if the web were merely invisible, it would not be nearly as remarkable as it is with its zigzag white X leading to mama at the center. This zigzag white silk — called “stabilimenta” — is all the more remarkable in that it reflects ultraviolet light. Who knew spiders were so tech savvy?

These visible patterns may be a warning to passing mammals, thereby keeping mama from having to start the web all over again after a deer wanders through her home.

At our house, every year or two a writing spider spins her web right outside our sliding doors to the deck or under the eaves/overhang of the roof. Both placements allow easy viewing, though we are often blocked from using the deck for a week or two.

So mama is sitting in the center of her brilliant white zigzag X-web when a small, handsome stranger stops by and builds a web next door. He’s good looking, so she agrees to mate with him. Bad decision on his part.

The male (one-fifth the size of the female, remember) dies about 15 minutes after mating. She either straps him to her back or wraps him up to be eaten at a later time. Told you it was a bad decision.

She, in turn, lays two to four egg sacks, each with about 800 eggs. The babies are born in the fall, but overwinter in the sack and disperse in the spring. Mom doesn’t live that long, dying about the time of first frost.

Can they bite? Yes. Is the bite dangerous? No. For most people it’s about like a bee sting — with a little redness and swelling after the bite. But who’s going to handle one to get stung?

Writing spiders have fascinated us before and since Charlotte of “Charlotte’s Web.” Leave them alone. Enjoy their writings. And, for arachnophobes, remember that all of God’s creatures have a place in the choir.

For J.E.

Yellow on black with face of argent

Zigzags white enable sightings

Scribbled tracks that follow axes

X of legs along web’s writings.

Small his size and short his life

Once he mates his hungry wife

Autumn bleak without her silk

Spring will spread her myriad ilk.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at