“My arachnaphobia is confused by how pretty this is.” —Kim
I spent most of my day yesterday gardening and playing with the pets on the farm. While was walking the beagle, Tycho, I decided to attach her leash to a post by the garden so I could check on some of the plants and see if I needed to move any of the watering mechanisms (slow soakers and moving sprinklers). As I dropped the handle of the leash over the post, I accidentally disturbed a spider-web, and immediately found myself face-to-face with a frightened, monstrously large (for Oregon) arachnid that had scurried up the post in a panic.
I was startled, and my initial mental response was one of, “Aaaaagh! Big, freaky, eight-legged monstrosity! We’re all going to die!“
After I got past that, however, I became fascinated and curious. I knew I had to grab some photos.
This feat was not easily achieved, as I had misplaced my camera. Luckily, the spider didn’t leave (perhaps because a hyperactive beagle was still leashed to the bottom of the post, blocking the spider’s escape) during the significant length of time I was rushing around, searching all the houses, yards, porches, nooks and, of course, crannies on the farm for my missing camera. I eventually found it (an unusual problem, for me: it was buried under a pile of money…I kid you not) and rushed back out to grab photos and footage (Tycho, meanwhile, happily chewed some stray walnuts to death and attempted to murder the other dog’s tennis ball).
I posted one of them to Instagram (and thus, also to Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and Tumblr), asking my friends and followers to help me identify it. Before long, I had the same answer from a number of different responses: argiope aurantia, also known as the black and yellow garden spider, writing spider, or corn spider.
It seems this chilling monstrosity was, in fact, a friend, helping to keep the plants in our almost jungle-like, insecticide-free garden from being completely devoured by undesired bugs. I think my friend Laura‘s mother gave the best and lengthiest description of my eight-legged companion in her response on my Facebook fan page:
Argiope! Argiope! I haven’t seen one in *years*! And I am indescribably jealous that you have them! They used to be very, very common — in fact, they were usually called “garden spiders.” They’re beautiful, they make the most classically gorgeous webs, and they spend their whole summer catching all kinds of insects. That large spider you have in the photo is a female; she was hatched out last spring and is now at maximum size and will soon spin a nifty little thimble-shaped box, very solid and water-proof; lay her mound of eggs on a little pillow on the underside of the box top, seal it up — and then die. The big reason you have them is that you don’t use insecticides, because they’re perfectly happy in an open, windy environment as long as there are plenty of insects to catch and eat. Insecticides have truly decimated their population, and I find it very sad.
So that’s how I met my neighbor, Argiope aurantia. I had a blast photographing her. You can find pictures of this lovely arachnid in the gallery below.