Without looking at a calendar, certain things tell you autumn is approaching—pumpkin spice encroaches upon your food and beverage options, weekends are filled with football, the leaves are turning various hues, and brightly-colored orbweaver spiders adorn the landscape.
Like the overwhelming majority of spiders, the orbweavers (Family Araneidae) of autumn are harmless to humans. There are a dozen or more common species in the Great Lakes Region and these can be good sized as far as spiders are concerned—easily over 1” long when you include their legs. Our commonest species are from the genus Araneus and include the cross orbweaver, shamrock orbweaver, and the marbled orbweaver. They can be quite common in yards, gardens, on plants, and on your back patio. Other common species in the genus Argiope (the “garden” spiders) are even larger, spanning over 2” with outstretched legs. In addition to their large size, flashy “fall” colors and patterns conspicuously adorn these spiders—yellows, oranges, reds, stripes, polka-dots, and more.
Their life cycle is another reason why many orbweavers can be so noticeable in autumn. Our common species overwinter in the egg sac and the young spiderlings usually go unnoticed as they grow and develop the following spring and summer. By the time they’ve reached maturity in late summer, it’s mating season and the adults have a month or two to go about their business. During that time, they’re easiest to spot sitting in their large circular webs, which were an inspiration for the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web.
Unfortunately, most folks never take the time to learn about these beautiful and fascinating creatures. If you ask someone their thoughts of spiders, feelings of fear, disgust, repulsion, and anxiety might come to mind. In society as a whole, there seems to be a feeling that spiders are something to be loathed or feared, which really shouldn’t be the case. It doesn’t help when the internet has an abundance of myths and preposterous stories about spiders [here’s a good source to debunk some of those myths]. In the grand scheme of things, you’re more likely to be injured by a pet dog than you are to be harmed by a spider. If anything, spiders should be considered beneficial as they eat an astonishing mass of insects every year.
If you’d like to learn more about spiders, one of my favorite books for the Midwest is Spiders of the Northwoods by Larry Weber. There are also some great spider blogs out there; my favorites include: SpiderBytes by Catherine Scott and Arthropod Ecology by Chris Buddle. To this day, two of my all-time favorite spider posts are from Chris Buddle’s blog and have the self-explanatory titles of “Spiders do not bite” and “Update: spiders STILL don’t bite”.