Here in the Bay Area, we have very few really large insects. Aside from Jerusalem crickets, most insects and spiders here are small and scarce. But in September and October, the weather heats up, and beautiful huge orb weavers appear out of nowhere, and get big. They are the heralds of Autumn known as Araneus diadematus.
Araneus is actually not a native spider, but an import from Europe, where they are very common. While they aren’t considered invasive, they certainly seem to be everywhere, making gigantic sturdy orb webs over doorways, backyard paths, and gardens overnight. There aren’t really any Argiope or Nephila spiders like in the rest of the country, so people are rather shocked to suddenly be faceplanting into giant webs every morning. And I get calls every year from people curious or freaked out about them. I have certainly manage to run into one at least once a day so far this month. I don’t feel too bad though, as they rebuild them quite quickly.
Araneus isn’t at all aggressive, and its venom, if it ever does bite, is rather inconsequential. Mostly they’re just large and in-your-face with their arachnidal corpulence, great thimble-sized beasts that impudently hang suspended in the centers of huge classic webs that can reach over 5 feet. Invariably the ones in my back yard are snacking on some hapless honeybee or crane fly. If you look nearby you can find the tiny males building webs nearby, or testing the webs to see if they can get lucky. Though many folks just call them “garden orb weavers” or the like, I recently heard that some folks instead call them “pumpkin spiders”, which is wonderfully celebratory for such a distinguished spider. They arrive without fail every October heralding Halloween, and most are shaped like exotic autumn gourds themselves!
Here’s a few wonderful macro photos taken by my friend Doug Swam, who shares my appreciation for these Great Ladies. Too bad they can’t stick around all year.