Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Both sides now: an arachnid version

with 36 comments

On August 19th we started to go out for a walk in the neighborhood. As soon as I raised the garage door, I noticed a black and yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia, hanging in its web just outside the door frame. Delaying our walk for 10 or 15 minutes, I took pictures of the spider from both sides, as you see here.

The conspicuous white zigzag at the bottom center of the web is called a stabilimentum. According to Wikipedia, its purpose “is disputed. It is possible that it acts as camouflage for the spider lurking in the web’s center, but it may also attract insect prey, or even warn birds of the presence of the otherwise difficult-to-see web. Only those spiders that are active during the day construct stabilimenta in their webs.” You can read the rest of that article for more information, including the various common names people have given this spider.

Let me add two things: the subject of these two portraits has maintained a web in approximately the same place since I first saw it on August 19th, and head-down is the normal stance for these spiders.

◊       ◊

Today, September 1st, marks 82 years since World War 2 began. Referring to that day, W.H. Auden wrote a poem entitled September 1, 1939,” which ends:

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 1, 2021 at 4:16 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

36 Responses

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  1. A beauty, from any angle, and a delight to behold.


    September 1, 2021 at 5:28 AM

  2. It’s always fun to find these zig-zaggy constructions. I don’t see them often, but when they’re around, it’s hard to miss them. Every now and then I come across a small, circular stabilimentum. They’re usually in the grass or near the ground, and no more than an inch across. I’ve spotted the spiders a couple of times, but they seem to prefer hanging out beneath the stabilimentum, so I still haven’t managed a photo for an ID.


    September 1, 2021 at 6:06 AM

    • Along with Auden’s “affirming flame” is the affirming zigzag of an Argiope spider’s stabilimentum. I don’t know that I’ve noticed the circular kind no more than an inch across that you mentioned seeing near the ground. Let’s hope you get good photo documentation next time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 1, 2021 at 6:15 AM

  3. I’ve never noticed that much brown on those that I see here. I wonder if they are not as black in your area, which maybe is why BG.N has them as “Yellow “ rather than “Black and Yellow” or maybe it’s the result of flash.
    They are beautiful spiders.

    Steve Gingold

    September 1, 2021 at 6:14 AM

  4. We have quite of few of these on the immediate property, but I know they are also prevalent in open, sunny spots in the woods and orchard. I have a few that I see daily – two in my flower beds and three in the garden in my tomatoes. I work around them and talk to them when I’m picking tomatoes or watering the flowers. I honestly never see the zig zag first, but rather the spider because of the bold markings. They are a delight to have around.


    September 1, 2021 at 7:01 AM

    • It sounds like your place is Argiope Central Station, with more of these spiders than I ever normally see in one area. How interesting that you talk to them. If you said that they answer you I’d have to ask what they say.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 1, 2021 at 7:56 AM

      • Oh I communicate a lot with nature. I’m sure my neighbors think I’m a kook, arms spread out wide in the morning, eyes looking skyward – my silent greeting to the vultures that spread their wings to glide on the thermals. I don’t mind the humans. It’s pretty awesome having a connection with nature!


        September 1, 2021 at 4:56 PM

  5. Great shots, but I struggle to see the beauty in these creatures, they induce a kind of instability and a strong desire to zigzag the heck away. I do admire the webs, however, and their silk-making ability, wish it was for stockings and not stalkings.

    Robert Parker

    September 1, 2021 at 7:46 AM

    • From what I’ve heard, arachnophobia is pretty common in people, so your reaction of wanting to zigzag the heck away must be shared by many.

      On the language front, in the first linguistics class I ever took the teacher pointed out that even then (around 1964–65) many Americans, particularly in the west, would pronounce stocking and stalking the same way, whereas for people speaking my New York City area dialect the two words were (and still are) distinct.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 1, 2021 at 8:11 AM

      • The two words he used as an example were hock and hawk.

        Steve Schwartzman

        September 1, 2021 at 8:13 AM

      • Well I’m sure you NYC folks from the silk stocking district enunciate beautifully. I’d have to say “sox” for anyone to tell the difference

        Robert Parker

        September 1, 2021 at 8:24 AM

  6. Ewww! In cool way though! 😂 Great macro of this one.


    September 1, 2021 at 8:24 AM

    • The full-size originals show lots more detail, particularly in the spider’s fuzzy thorax in the top picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 1, 2021 at 8:45 AM

  7. Following your blog is a never-ending learning experience, Steve! Insightful words and photos!

    Peter Klopp

    September 1, 2021 at 8:55 AM

  8. Beautiful patterns!

    Eliza Waters

    September 1, 2021 at 5:51 PM

  9. Beautiful spider photographs. The one on top is particularly appealing with black background and the very conspicuous stabilimenta.

    Alessandra Chaves

    September 2, 2021 at 4:11 AM

    • For both photographs I used a ring flash. When I took the top picture I was in daylight outside the garage aiming toward the inside of the garage, which was rather dark by comparison. That accounts for the background coming out almost black. The full-size version of the image shows more detail, especially in the fuzzy thorax.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2021 at 4:41 AM

      • Thanks for the explanation.

        Alessandra Chaves

        September 2, 2021 at 4:47 AM

        • Sure thing. It explains why the backgrounds are so different. For the bottom picture I had to scrunch down a little and aim slightly upward to keep the tops of trees across the street from showing up at the bottom of the frame and distracting from the spider.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 2, 2021 at 5:23 AM

  10. I don’t know what you mean.

    Steve Schwartzman

    September 2, 2021 at 5:24 AM

  11. I love argiopes!

    Lavinia Ross

    September 2, 2021 at 1:14 PM

  12. […] These are everywhere right now.  They are a late summer species, laying their eggs in the fall and the young hatch in Spring.  I’ve seen a few in the Brickyard meadow, most recently this past Saturday, but this morning offered some good access to the webs. They are not poisonous and will only bite if you bother a female while carrying her egg sac. These have the same characteristic zigzag feature as the Yellow Garden Spider shared recently by Steve Schwartzman. […]

  13. I have never heard of stabilimenta .. how interesting! Must keep my eye out .. Super images Steve


    September 7, 2021 at 1:59 AM

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