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Huge, Scary Spider Killed My Dog!

- DianaLynne/Getty Images
DianaLynne/Getty Images

Not really – it just eats bugs.

Sorry for that hyberbolic, sensational headline, but so many stories on the web use this technique as clickbait, I thought I’d try it out. If you’re still reading, it worked! So what’s the real story behind that huge, scary spider in the photo?

Well, it doesn’t kill dogs or cats or people. (Squirrels, I don’t know – but really, who cares if it does? One less squirrel is a good thing.) This is the female garden spider (Argiope aurantia), a common sight in gardens where she likes to build her web. She’s been lurking among your plants since spring, eating and growing she goes. You don’t notice her until you walk out with your morning coffee one day in late summer and fall and come face-to-face with a fearsome-looking monster stretched out in a web and looking hungry.

She’s BIG. Decorated with striking yellow and black markings, her abdomen can be an inch long. Her legs extend twice that distance. An orb weaver. she builds her web by attaching four of five silk anchor lines to a central point and then adding a spiral of silk between them. The web’s most distinctive feature is the stabilimentum – zigzags of silk above and below the center. Some think its purpose is to keep birds from flying through and destroying the web. It may also serve to camouflage the spider as it waits for prey.

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The web has another purpose besides snagging insect prey – it often holds a large egg sac up to an inch in diameter with as many as a thousand eggs inside. In warm-weather climates, tiny spiderlings emerge in fall. Where winters are cold, the eggs hatch in spring. Mama guards the egg sac as long as she can, but dies with the first hard frost.

Its appearance may belie the truth, but this is not the demonic, screeching spider chasing people down that freaked you out in the movie, Arachnophobia. Garden spiders aren’t aggressive nor are they prone to bite. Even if they were, their venom is harmless to people and pets.

So even though I don’t have a dog, it’s not because of garden spiders. It’s just that cats are so much cleaner, quieter, cuter, and better. But you already knew that.

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