Yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia)
San Antonio, Texas: July 26, 2002

While in San Antonio on July 26, 2002, I took these photos of a large female Argiope aurantia spider. This specimen, measuring an estimated 4 inches from the tip of the left rear leg to the tip of the right front leg, was one of the largest I've found in Texas. The largest, spanning more than 5 inches, was observed at a roadside park on U.S. Highway 77, between Lott and Cameron, in 1993.

If you compare this spider with the one photographed in Round Rock in 2001 (An Argiope species) you will notice, besides many similarities, several important differences. Besides their radically different sizes, the spider shown here has a carapace (the part of the body where the legs attach) that is covered with silvery gray hairs. The legs of this spider are black along their lengths except for the segment nearest the carapace (the femurs for legs 2, 3, and 4), whose mid-section is yellow.  Notice also that the abdomen (the part of the body behind the carapace) has a noticeable hump that makes it higher than the carapace. Each of these features differs in the spider photographed in Round Rock last year, yet both are the same species.  The one in Round Rock was immature, but this one is sexually mature, and in the final molt to sexual maturity many important changes occur.

Several people have e-mailed me with questions about yellow garden spiders. The most common question: Is the venom of this spider dangerous to people? This spider is so big that it is natural to worry that it might bite you or your children and cause serious harm.

Extant scientific literature suggests that the venom of this spider is very potent to insects. In fact, at least one commercial concern has studied ways to use Argiope venom as an insecticide. That project was placed on hold, however, because insects would eventually become immune to the venom if it was used extensively for insecticidal purposes, and the consequences to this and other spiders whose venom is similar cannot be predicted with certainty. Apparently, the venom is almost harmless to humans, but this spider is known to bite if it is handled roughly.

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