Spiders of any kind give me the heebie-jeebies. And when I’m working in my garden and become face-to-web with a big, black and yellow garden spider, I’m out of there. But once I get my wits about me, I welcome the creepy critter because it’s doing me a great service.
Jonathan Larson is an Extension entomologist at the University of Kentucky. He says they’re beneficial in the garden because their webs are large and capture a lot of prey in them.
"Their prey can be a lot of the different kinds of pest insects that you don’t want in your garden, or mosquitoes that are buzzing around. And then they run over and wrap them up in silk and gobble them down," says Larson. "So, they’re beneficial because they help to keep those populations of pests in check. They’re natural pest control and all they want is room and board."
Garden spiders spin their webs in sunny areas with tall vegetation. However, we don’t see them until later in the season when spiderlings become adults. Larson says the females are the bright black and yellow spiders. The males are much smaller and less colorful.
There is one mystery that scientists haven’t agreed on – what’s up with the white zig-zag pattern in the center of the web?
"There’s a lot of theories. One of them is that it’s there to protect and camouflage the spider so a predator might miss them. There’s another theory that it helps to attract prey somehow, that that zig-zag brings in those pests that we’re trying to get eaten. Another theory is that it warns birds about the web," he says. "The web is otherwise quite invisible, especially to a fast-flying bird, but they see that zig-zag and perhaps they’ll steer out of the way."
Although they look ferocious, garden spiders are quite shy and aren’t poisonous to humans.