Silver Garden Spiders, in Brownsville, TX and Bonaire, Netherland Antilles

BugsInTheNews is a VIEWER-PARTICIPANT WEBSITE. This article by Jerry Cates, Lutz S. (Brownsville TX) and Kathryn H. (Bonaire NA), first published on 11 February 2011, was revised last on 7 July 2012. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 12:02(08)

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Araneidae: silver garden spider (Argiope argentata); dorsal body and legs; Lutz S., Brownsville TX---21 Oct 2008

Araneidae: silver garden spider (Argiope argentata); dorsal body and legs; Lutz S., Brownsville TX---21 Oct 2008

The silver garden spider (Argiope argentata) is not quite as common as the yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia), and tends to favor warmer climes, but can be seen in mid to late summertime in yards, gardens, and woods throughout the southern U.S., from California to Florida, and southward through Mexico, Central America, and the northern portion of South America, as far south as Argentina. As the 02112011 encounter described by Kathryn H., below shows, the spider is also found in the Netherlands Antilles; she found several on the island of Bonaire, and we would expect to find the species on most if not all the other islands in the Lesser Antilles.

As the common name suggests, the female is clothed in silvery hairs on the entire carapace, and on the anterior half of the dorsal abdomen; much of the posterior half of the dorsal abdomen is also silvery white, with black and yellow markings.

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.

Johan Christian Fabricius (1745-1808), a Danish entomologist, first described this spider, applying the specific epithet argentata, in 1775. The name derives from the Latin word argentum, “silver.”

These spiders are 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, supply additional details on the anatomy and life histories of these spiders.

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Araneidae: silver garden spider (Argiope argentata): dorsum; Kathryn H., Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles---11 Feb 2011

Araneidae: silver garden spider (Argiope argentata): dorsum; Kathryn H., Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles---11 Feb 2011

Araneidae: silver garden spider (Argiope argentata): ventrum; Kathryn H., Bonaire, Netherlanda Antilles---11 Feb 2011

Araneidae: silver garden spider (Argiope argentata): ventrum; Kathryn H., Bonaire, Netherlanda Antilles---11 Feb 2011

Kathryn wrote on 11 February 2011:

Hi, Jerry,

Got a new spider for you (well, new to us).

We didn’t see a single orb weaver at the house (in Atlanta) this summer, but we’re in Bonaire right now — and guess what we did find — a Bonaire version of the orb weavers we’d been seeing in Atlanta.

Same general “behavior” — hanging head down on web, and though it doesn’t show in the picture, there is the delicate spiral pattern to the webs. There are actually three of these spiders in the same vicinity — the one big one pictured on her own web, then a smaller one behind her on its web, and a third even smaller one (not pictured) in palm fronds to the left of the picture of the two together. The large one has (to me) unusual spots on the top of her abdomen (looks like a “:Hello Kitty” face, almost), which seems to have little pointy things sticking out from it.

I’m sure you can ID her — can you tell me what she is? Let me know if you need any more pictures, but it was sort of hard to get good, clear ones due to the place where she was and the angle of the web, which was at about 30 degrees, with her back pointing down toward the ground, and we couldn’t get under her to take a picture of her back without disturbing the little spider’s web behind her, and we didn’t want to do that.

Thanks.

Kathryn H.

(Kathryn’s surname has been shortened to protect her privacy)

A search of the Internet, to find out precisely where the Texas city of Bonaire was, revealed there was a suburb of Houston by that name. However, Kathryn hastened to point out that she was not in Texas, but in the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao), off the coast of Venezuela. That explained a lot. It was cold in Houston this morning — below freezing even — and that would not be a good situation for a fully mature silver garden spider.

There may be some doubt that Katheryn’s spider is, indeed, the same species of silver garden spider found in North America, not so much because of the distance — though it is weaving its web thousands of miles away — but because the dorsal abdomen’s markings are strikingly different from those of our North American species. This species, while not quite the world traveler as its cousin, the banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata), it is distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical Americas, so the two may be in the same species regardless of the variations in their markings.

Notice that Kathryn worked hard to make sure and get photos of both sides (the dorsum and venrum) of her spider. Our communications span a number of years, and she’s learned that the more angles she can photograph the better. All who view the fruits of her labors thank her.

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