A Banded garden spider from Justin, Texas

BugsInTheNews is a VIEWER-PARTICIPANT WEBSITE. This article by Jerry Cates and Stephen M., first published on 12 February 2011, was revised last on 7 July 2012. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 12:02(09)

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Araneidae: banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata); dorsum, feeding on moth; Stephen M., Justin TX---21 Jul 2007

Araneidae: banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata); dorsum, feeding on moth; Stephen M., Justin TX---21 Jul 2007

The banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata Forskål, 1775) is one of the few spiders in the genus Argiope found worldwide, at least within the tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

Besides the type species itself, two subspecies are also recognized: Argiope trifasciata deserticola Simon 1906, which is native to the Sudan, and Argiope trifasciata kauaiensis, Simon, 1900, which is native to Hawaii.

A very similar species, Argiope bruennichi, is common in Europe, the Iberian peninsula, the Canary islands, and in the Azores archipelago.

As the common name avers, the female’s dorsal abdomen, while clothed in silvery hairs, is banded laterally by as many as 13 dark, narrow bands.

Males are much smaller, with less dramatic colors and markings; as with the yellow garden spider, males are rarely observed beyond midsummer.

The genus Argiope is discussed on a separate page.

The first taxonomical analysis of this species is attributed to Peter Forsskål. Today his surname is often spelled with a single ‘s’, the result of an accident of history. The major scientific tracts bearing his name were published by Carsten Niebuhr 12 years after Forsskål died, and as Niebuhr incorrectly spelled Forsskål’s name in that manner, the mistake has carried onward as today’s “proper” spelling. Which brings us to the manner of Forsskål’s death.

Peter Forsskål was born in Finland, but his family moved to Sweden while he was a child. Later, he studied under the brilliant taxonomist Carl Linnaeus, who recommended him to King Frederick V of Denmark for a 1761 expedition to Egypt and the shores of the Red Sea. All but one of the scientists on that expedition died from malaria, and Forsskål was the second in the party to succumb (1763).

Carsten Niebuhr, the lone survivor of the expedition, is thought to have avoided the fate of his fellows by adopting the habits and dress of Middle Eastern natives. That theory accords with research I carried out during the 1960’s (200 years after Forsskål’s death) in Vietnam, on malaria avoidance strategies used by natives in Southeast Asia.

Malaria is spread by anopheline mosquitoes, among others, which take blood meals from mammals and in the process inject salivary fluids into the feeding site to prevent the host’s blood from coagulating. The host becomes infected by parasites present in the injected fluids.

I was particularly taken by the methods used by certain native Montagnard tribes near the Indochinese coast, who, during the nighttime hours, housed pigs and chickens under their elevated huts. Foraging mosquitoes, which are most abundant at lower elevations, find an adequate supply of bloodmeals near the surface of the ground and, therefore, have no need to fly higher — where the sleeping natives are — to satiate their ravenous appetites. Thus protected, these natives often manage to escape the scourge of malaria, despite the near-ubiquitous presence of infected mosquitoes in their villages.

The banded garden spider is capable of biting —- even through light clothing -—  if handled roughly, or if accidentally captured between their webs and one’s body (as can happen when one by happenstance walks into a web strung across a trail). Though the bite can be painful, the venom is not considered dangerous. Allergic individuals may suffer unusual complications, however.

Individual case histories, provided below as they come in, will supply additional details on the anatomy and life histories of these spiders.

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