Argiope Spider a Grasshopper Caught in the Silky Protein Thread of its Web

Black and Yellow Argiope Spider photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in Raystown Lake, PA

Meadows in the northeastern U.S. are generally barren in March through May. Late May through June brings quick growth of meadow plants and grasses. July finds these meadows with growth as tall as 3 feet high. Photographing summer butterflies is a rewarding experience. The monarchs, fritillaries, sulphurs, coppers and the list goes on and on.

August comes with footnotes. Consider the usual party poopers: ticks, mosquitoes, deer flies and horse flies. What a gallery of rogues! A whole industry of commercial sprays and ointments are available to keep them from feeding on us!

To this August list we add yet another meadow possibility. You follow a Monarch or an Aphrodite fritillary, working to get a good image of its vivid form. It flies from trail’s edge into the nearby meadow. You follow it. A short distance into the tall wildflowers, and “Uggggh!,” you are covered in spiderweb! No matter how many times that has happened to me, in an instant I  revert to the boy in me, dreading that the giant Argiopoe aurantia AKA Black and yellow argiope spider is somewhere on my face, neck or clothing.

Fact: For all the times that I’ve had this experience, I have never found one of these sizable arachnids anywhere on me. Could they be as displeased with being near us as we are being near them? posts this image with a grasshopper caught in the silky protein thread of a web. That day in August, and in fact for that week, I stationed myself at these webs in a meadow in Rector, Pennsylvania. This female argiope had an especially well positioned web. Butterflies didn’t fly into her trap that morning. This grasshopper sprung into the web. I am not certain of its species, but I was ready. I had my Canon camera set at multiple clicks of shutter. The moment that the grasshopper contacted the web, I repeatedly pressed the shutter button, getting rapid groups of 3’s: pop, pop, pop!

The argiope here continues to loop her sticky threads around her prey at very high speeds. After circling the grasshopper about 10 times, she pauses and then charges the trapped animal, digging her fangs in and releases potent venom. The venom soon renders the grasshopper helpless.

Spiders of the meadow contribute to maintaining butterfly populations. They are a part of the phenomenal mechanism that annually returns new generations of butterflies to our meadows, forests, wetlands and other diverse habitat.

Was this uncomfortable for some of you? Take a moment then to note how cleverly designed the spider is.