Garden Spiders: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on January 16, 2023
5 min read

The garden spider is a very common type of spider that lives all over the Northern Hemisphere. They live in various outdoor habitats, so chances are good that you’ve seen one before without realizing what kind of spider it was. Although there are certainly many kinds of spiders to be wary of, the garden spider isn’t one of them. Here’s what you need to know about this common arachnid, including where it lives and what to do about it.

The garden spider is a member of the orb weaver family, Araneidae. Garden spiders are found all across the U.S. They're also called writing spiders or corn spiders in some places. To help you identify them, here are some basic facts that you should know.

What do garden spiders look like? Garden spiders are fairly large. Females can be almost an inch long, not counting their legs. Males are a lot smaller, usually only measuring about a quarter of an inch. These spiders have a small head topped with silver hairs and an oval-shaped abdomen with a black and yellow pattern. The pattern includes a thick black stripe in the middle of the abdomen with four white spots on the stripe.

The legs of the garden spider are reddish-orange near the body and black further down. Even though these spiders are colorful, the males do not stand out as much as the females. They usually have less yellowing coloring than female garden spiders.

What do garden spiders eat? As members of the orb weaver family, garden spiders spin an orb web to trap prey to feed on. The web is quite intricate and has a visible X-shaped zig-zag pattern. Experts believe that the pattern helps birds avoid flying into the web. The garden spider waits for flying insects, grasshoppers, and beetles to get tangled in the web. Once trapped, the garden spider bites its prey and injects it with venom. It then wraps the prey in silk and saves it for a meal.

Because of what it eats, garden spiders are actually very beneficial to keep around your yard or garden. They eat annoying pests like mosquitoes, gnats, and flies — guests that you don’t want at your summertime barbecue. Because of this, many gardeners and people who spend time in their yards don’t mind having garden spiders around.

Garden spiders live throughout North and Central America, but they mostly keep to the eastern part of this range. They usually live in grassy areas near bodies of water or along hillsides. It’s also common to find garden spiders in wooded areas or places where humans spend time, like farms, yards, and gardens.

Garden spiders like to build their webs near houses. Once they do, they tend to stay in the same spot for the duration of a season. Compared with other spiders that usually build webs in shrubs or covered areas, garden spiders tend to build webs right out in the open.

The easiest way to tell that you have garden spiders around your property is by looking for their webs, which are intricate and have recognizable geometric patterns. As mentioned, these webs have a zig-zag in the middle that helps to stabilize them, attract insects, and warn other animals. Garden spiders can’t see very well, so they rely on vibrations in the web to let them know that something is approaching.

You might be able to spot the garden spider in or around its web thanks to its bright colors. They're most noticeable in the fall because they get bigger after feeding on insects all summer long. In the fall, garden spiders mate and lay eggs before they die.

Garden spiders tend to be outdoor spiders, so anyone can find them in their yard. They don’t usually have a preference for one garden over another, so if you have them, it’s likely that your neighbors have them, too. Garden spiders tend to stay in vegetation during the day to avoid predators, so your yard might be prone to them if you have shrubs or flowers. If they sense danger or a disturbance, they drop away and move to safety.

Garden spiders are quite helpful when it comes to pest control in your yard, and they pose no threat to humans.

Do garden spiders bite? When garden spiders feel threatened, their first instinct is to hide, not attack. However, if you try to handle a garden spider, it may bite. These spiders are big, so the bite may hurt, but it’s not dangerous or harmful. However, people who are allergic to spider bites may have more complications than those who aren't.

Are garden spiders poisonous? Garden spiders create venom to paralyze their prey, but this venom doesn't affect humans. Because garden spiders aren't poisonous, they’re considered to be harmless and not a threat to people.

If you do get a garden spider bite, wash the area well with soap and warm water. Spider bites can cause pain, redness, and itchiness around the bite. An over-the-counter antihistamine can help relieve your symptoms. Avoid scratching your spider bite because it can cause the wound to get infected.

You should seek immediate care if you suspect that you’re having an allergic reaction to the spider bite or if you experience these symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Expanding redness and swelling
  • Red streaks around the wound
  • Severe pain or abdominal pain

Because garden spiders are important to local ecosystems and keep other pests at bay, there’s no reason to remove them from your yard. But if they keep building webs in heavily trafficked areas, you can help relocate them to a different part of your yard. Slip on a pair of gardening gloves and move the spider to a safe space out of the way, being careful not to startle it. If you’re uneasy about handling the spider, use a broom to clear away the web when the spider isn’t in it, and it will move on to a new location.