Herbert A. 'Joe' Pase III, Texas A&M Forest Service, Bugwood.org
These are some of the largest and showiest of the spiders commonly encountered in Pennsylvania. They are seen in gardens, tall weeds, and sunny areas with bushes and other supporting structures on which they build their large orb webs. Yellow garden spiders are found throughout most of the United States.
Yellow garden spider females range in length from 19 to 28 millimeters. The carapace is covered with silver hairs, and the eight eyes are procurved with the lateral four eyes nearly joined and seated upon two projections or humps on either side of the front of the carapace. The second, third, and fourth pair of legs are black with the femora yellow to red. The front legs are frequently entirely black. The abdomen is an elongated oval that is pointed to the rear, notched in front, patterned yellow and black, and has two anterior humps or shoulders.
The males are 5 to 8 millimeters in length and their legs are lighter in color than those of the females. The immature spiders have banded legs. The egg cocoons are deposited in the late summer and are spherical, brown papery sacs.
The web is large (50- to 100-centimeter diameters are not uncommon) and orientated vertically with a white, zigzag stripe down the center, which is called the stabilimentum. The exact function of this structure is unclear.
In early spring, the spiderlings, numbering from 500 to 1,000, will emerge from the cocoon. Many of them will succumb to cannibalism and predation from mud-dauber wasps. Those that do survive are usually unnoticed by humans until they reach maturity in the late summer.
Although these large, showy spiders sometimes cause alarm to individuals who are uncomfortable with spiders, they are not known to be medically important. People are not likely to be bitten unless they handle a female with an egg cocoon in the web. Even then, the bite would likely cause no more discomfort for most individuals than a wasp or bee sting.
Baerg, W. J. 1936. The Black Widow. Ark. Agr. Expt. Sta. Bul. 325. 34 pp.
Baerg, W. J. 1959. The Black Widow and Five Other Venomous Spiders in the United States. Ark. Agr. Expt. Sta. Bul. 608. 43 pp.
Bradley, R. A. 2013. Common Spiders of North America. University of California Press. 271 pp.
Breene, R. G., et al. 2003. Common Names of Arachnids. 5th ed. The American Arachnological Society Committee on Common Names of Arachnids. 42 pp.
Gertsch, W. J., and F. Ennik. 1983. "The spider genus Loxosceles in North America, Central America, and the West Indies (Araneae, Loxoscelidae)." Bul Amer Mus. Nat. Hist. 175: 24-360.
Herms, W. B., and M. T. James. 1961. Medical Entomology. 5th ed. The MacMillan Company, New York. 616 pp.
Howell, W. M., and R. L. Jenkins. 2004. Spiders of the Eastern United States: A Photographic Guide. Pearson Education. 363 pp.
Isbister, G. K., and M. R. Gray. 2003. "Effects of envenoming by combfooted spiders of the genera Steatoda and Achaearanea (Family Theridiidae: Araneae) in Australia." J. Toxicol. Clin. Toxicol. 41: 809-819.
Kaston, B. J. 1948. "Spiders of Connecticut." Conn. State Geol. Nat. Hist. Survey. Bull. 70. 874 pp.
Kaston, B. J. 1972. How to Know the Spiders. 3rd ed. Wm. C. Brown Company, Dubuque, Iowa. 272 pp.
Levi, H. W. 1959. "The Spider Genus Latrodectus (Araneae, Theridiidae)." Trans. Amer. Microscopical Soc. 78(1): 7-43.
Long, D., R. Snetsinger, and K. F. Helm. 1995. "Localized Pruritic Rash Due to Recurrent Spider Bites." J. Geriatr. Dermatol. 3(6): 186-190.
McKeown, N., R. S. Vetter, and R. G. Hendrickson. 2014. "Verified spider bites in Oregon (USA) with the intent to assess hobo spider venom toxicity." Toxicon 84: 51-55.
Ubick, D., P. Paquin, P. E. Cushing, and V. Roth, eds. 2005. Spiders of North America: An Identification Manual. American Arachnological Society. 377 pp.
Vetter, R. S., and P. Kirk Visscher. 1998. "Bites and Stings of Medically Important Venomous Arthropods." International. J. Derm. 37: 481-496.
Vetter, R. S., et al. 2006. "Verified Bites By Yellow Sac Spiders (Genus Cheiracanthium) in the United States and Australia: Where Is the Necrosis?" Amer. J. Trop. Med. Hyg. 74(6): 1,043-1,048.
Vetter, R. S., and G.K. Isbister. 2008. "Medical aspects of spider bites." Annu. Rev. Entomol. 53: 409-429.
Authored by: Steve Jacobs, Sr. Extension Associate
March 2002 Revised 2015