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argiope

Q: What are the huge spiders with zigzag webs?

Q:  I just moved here and I have never seen so many of these large spiders outside.  I seem to be running into their webs constantly. Their webs have this zigzag pattern in the middle which is where they hang out.  I kid you not, they are huge.  What is going on? What are they?
A:  The spider you are encountering is probably one of the argiope spiders, most likely the yellow and black argiope, Argiope aurantia. I have seen hundreds of them in the summer and early fall months when I am out gathering clippings of tree limbs along the roadside and edges of forests. They are large (up to 2.5 cm) but they are not aggressive creatures, therefore you need not feel threatened by them.  Although, I agree running into the web would be disconcerting.  They are immensely beneficial to us in controlling insect populations as they can eat creatures several times larger than themselves.  I have several yellow and black argiopes in my own yard and the photo attached is one of them.
She is living just outside my back door on one of my citrus trees. This morning I found a June bug in her web – unlucky for him! Yellow and black argiopes have a silvery, white outer covering on its cephalothorax (combination of head and chest).  The 8 black and white legs are often held in pairs when at rest. The abdomen has intricate designs in black, white and yellow. These spiders often weave the zigzag design in the middle of their web, exactly as you described.  They prefer to hang in the web with their heads toward the ground just along the zigzag area.
The argiope spider, like most other spiders, has fangs which produce venom to paralyze or kill their prey, but they are unlikely candidates for biting humans.  Take the philosophy of “live and let live” with these creatures.  Don’t mess with them and they won’t mess with you.  If you are bitten by any spider and the area becomes inflamed and/or you develop flu-like symptoms, be sure to contact your doctor immediately.