Halloween ID challenge answer – Argiope trifasciata

Here is another photo of the spider in the previous post with a closer view of its spiny pedipalps (mouth feeler thingys).  Troy Bartlett and BitB’s own James Trager got it right – the spider is, indeed, Argiope trifasciata, the banded garden spider (a.k.a. banded garden orbweaver, banded argiope, whitebacked garden spider, etc.).   I figured the genus would be easy, but the species might be a little tricky – at least for those in North America who might be tempted to conclude it was the larger A. aurantia (black and yellow garden spider, etc.).  The broken banding on the femora and generally lighter ventral coloration are usually enough to distinguish A. trifasciata from its more conspicuous congener.  Argiope trifasciata is also distinguished as one of the few truly cosmopolitan arthropod species, occurring naturally on all continents except Antarctica.

Both Troy and Dave Walter mentioned the conspicuous stabilimentum (heavy zig-zagging pattern) that Argiope spiders are perhaps best known for and that they often add to the center of their otherwise cryptic webs. Originally thought to possess a web-stabilizing function (hence the name), a variety of alternative explanations have since been proposed.  These include camouflage (to break up the body outline of the spider and make it less visible to predators), web protection (to make the web more visible to birds and prevent them from flying into and damaging it), prey luring (since it reflects ultraviolet light efficiently), thermal protection (by providing a shield against the sun), and a repository for excess silk.   An alternative hypothesis that I had not heard of but mentioned by Dave is that they serve as sponges for accumulating water for the spider to drink.  Webs with stabilimenta are more common and larger in exposed versus sheltered locations, and a recent study by Blackledge and Wenzel (1999) using A. aurantia found that webs with a stabilimentum suffered significantly less damage from birds (45% on average) than those without, but that they also caught fewer insects (34% on average).  The presence or absence of a stabilimentum, however, was not a significant factor in predation of the spiders by birds.  This implies not only a web protective function for the stabilimentum, but that there is an evolutionary trade-off between web protection and foraging success.  These authors concluded that variation in stabilimenta might be accounted for by a cost—benefit trade-off and that the decision by the spider to include a stabilimentum when building a web may be influenced by external factors such as prey density and web exposure.

Specific to A. trifasciata, a less well known but equally interesting aspect of its behavior is the use of web orientation for thermoregulation.   Tolbert (1979), in a study conducted in the southeastern US, found that web orientation was non-random during the hottest part of the summer, when spiders largely occupied east-west oriented webs with their silver/white dorsal surfaces facing south and their dark ventral surfaces facing north, and during October when the situation was reversed.  Orientation of the white/silver dorsal surface towards the sun presumably is done to help lower body temperatures, while orienting the ventral surface of the spider, which changes from silver to black as the spider reaches maturity, would maximize solar radiation for heat gain.  In contrast, Ramirez et al. (2003) found the species in coastal southern California never oriented their webs in a non-random fashion – rather, they always oriented them along an east-to-west axis with the mostly dark ventral surface of their abdomens facing south.  They suggested that dealing with a high heat load is not a significant problem in the predominantly cool environment of coastal southern California and that staying warm is the greater challenge for this mostly fall active species.

I’ll give 6 points to Troy for agreeing with me on everything, 4 to Dave for playing Devil’s advocate with the species and his unique alternative stabilimentum hypothesis, and 2 points to James for agreeing with Troy’s species ID. 🙂

Photo Details: Canon 50D w/ MP-E 65mm 1-5X macro lens (ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/14), Canon MT-24EX flash w/ Sto-Fen + GFPuffer diffusers. Typical post-processing (levels, minor cropping, unsharp mask).


Blackledge, T. A. and J. W. Wenzel. 1999. Do stabilimenta in orb webs attract prey or defend spiders? Behavioral Ecology 10(4):372–376.

Ramirez, M. G., E. A. Wall and M. Medina. 2003. Web orientation of the banded garden spider Argiope trifasciata (Araneae, Araneidae) in a California coastal population. The Journal of Arachnology 31:405–411.

Tolbert, W. W.  1979. Thermal stress of the orb-weaving spider Argiope trifasciata (Araneae).  Oikos 32(3):386–392.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

11 thoughts on “Halloween ID challenge answer – Argiope trifasciata

  1. and 2 points to James for agreeing with Troy’s species ID

    Aw maaaaan, we can get points for that too? I missed the boat, then.
    Super-pretty critters (for a spider, anyways).

  2. I will treasure the points!

    I’m at the Canadian Entomological Society meeting and ran the aposematic colouration hypothesis by some of the spider people, but got no takers. Maybe camouflage is a better idea.


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