Garden spider industrious, useful

Chances are, you’ve seen the European garden spider hanging in a circular web outside your home.

And if you were smart, you left it alone to capture insects inside the sticky web that it rebuilds every day for that purpose. The spiders, also known as cross spiders, don’t just destroy their old webs before setting out on their daily building project, they eat them.

The European garden spider is the best known of the orb weavers, perhaps because its range extends from Washington state, Oregon and British Columbia across the northern states to New England.

Like other spiders, it has four pairs of legs. The first front pair are long and used as feelers.

The spiders range in color from a yellowish-brown to nearly black, with white or yellow spots on their abdomen.The males, which are smaller than the female, will approach her web carefully when it’s time to mate; if he’s not careful, he’ll be mistaken for a tasty meal.

Prey caught in the web are wrapped in silk thread before being eaten.

The female will lay her eggs in a sac woven from silk threads. She’ll stay by it for a few days before dying. Offspring will come out of the sac in spring and release fine threads of silk that will be caught in the wind. The baby spiders will be carried off in a process called ballooning; where they land is where they begin their new lives.

Sources: Todd Murray, entomologist at Washington State University King County Extension; V. Godines writing for the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web