Orb Weaver: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 16, 2023
5 min read

There are many species of spiders worldwide, and around 3,400 species live in North America. Many people are affected by arachnophobia — fear of spiders — even when the spider in question is harmless. Some people mistakenly think that spiders are insects. Spiders are not insects and are, in fact, arachnids.

Common spiders include the common house spider, the black widow, the brown recluse, and the wolf spider. Many people can find another common type of spider, usually in their gardens. This spider is known as the orb weaver.

Orb weavers are a type of spider commonly found in garden beds and on trees. However, they also can be found in tall grass, inside homes, and under porches. They live all across the United States, including in Alaska and Hawaii, and throughout Canada and Mexico. The orb weaver spider is one of the largest families of spiders with over 2,800 distinct species. 

Orb weavers spin their masterpiece of a web and then sit in the middle of the web or nearby, waiting for it to catch their prey. When orb weavers leave their webs, they keep a line attached from the web to their body that acts as a signal to let the orb weaver know when prey has entered the web. When prey comes into contact with the web, the line vibrates, signaling the orb weaver to return and begin its feast.

Orb weavers tend to re-spin their webs every night to start fresh in the morning. They build their homes along structures that can support their webs and offer them an abundance of prey. This can include the areas around light fixtures and bushes. They’re mostly seen in late summer and throughout fall.

They are a non-aggressive and docile spider. They’re usually more afraid of people than people are of them. They’re so flighty that they will flee at the first sign of a threat either by running or dropping down from their web. They're beneficial for keeping away other pests. 

What do orb weavers look like? Orb weaver identification can be tricky because these spiders come in various colors and patterns. The web can help, though. Although some orb weaver species don't build webs, the ones that do tend to build flat, circular webs that spiral out from the center. Another noticeable feature that can help distinguish them from other spiders is their large, bulging abdomen.

The orb weaver's color variations include reddish-browns to grays, but they can also come in brighter, more menacing colors. The golden orb weaver, for example, has yellow-banded legs. Orb weavers have eight legs and no antennae and vary in size. Mature adults typically grow to a body length of around 1.5 to 3 centimeters.

Two common orb weaver species are the garden orb weaver spider and the spiny orb weaver spider. The garden variety is typically found in reddish-brown and gray hues with leaf-shaped patterns on their bodies. They sometimes also have white or brown stripes on their dorsal side. Spiny orb weaver spiders look much different and usually have six pointed spines protruding from their oval-shaped abdomens. They are also brightly colored, instead of dull like their garden counterparts. 

What do orb weavers eat? Orb weavers will eat anything that gets entangled in their webs. The female spiders are usually the hunters. When an insect gets caught in the web, the spider will launch its attack. It injects its prey with venom that paralyzes it. Once paralyzed, the orb weaver will wrap its prey in silk and carry it to the center of the web until it’s ready to eat. When they feed, they slurp out the liquefied insides of the insect they caught.

The male spiders rely on females for food. As adults, they live with the females and eat the food they catch. 

Orb weaver life cycle. Young orb weavers generally emerge in spring but aren’t seen until summer and fall, when they typically reach maturity. Adult males don’t usually stay with their webs for long because they go off in search of a mate. Some adult males don’t even spin webs at all. Adult males travel frequently in search of females, so they aren’t always noticed by human eyes. The males mate and then die. 

Female orb weavers, on the other hand, usually stay with the webs they spin, feeding and waiting for the males to find them. Females lay eggs during the late fall months and die during the first frost. The eggs survive throughout the winter months, even surviving freezing temperatures. Egg sacs can contain several hundred eggs.

Orb weaver spiders are docile and hesitant to bite. However, if they feel threatened enough and aren't able to escape, they can and will bite. Their venom isn't especially dangerous for humans, though. Symptoms of an orb weaver bite include mild pain, numbness, and swelling. Rarely, nausea and dizziness may occur. See a doctor if any of your symptoms after an orb weaver bite seem to be getting worse or aren't going away on their own.

If you’re wondering about orb weaver prevention methods or how to get rid of orb weavers that you already have crawling around your home, there are a few steps you can take. The first step is identifying the problem. The most common sign of an orb weaver spider infestation is the presence of their large webs. Because they rebuild their webs often, there are usually several present in one area. 

Orb weavers pose no significant risk to human life, so there’s no rush to get rid of them. But some people may want to get rid of them just because their webs can be a nuisance. To prevent them from getting inside your home, seal any entryways, such as doors, windows, and cracks in the foundation. You’ll also need to practice good sanitation and organization. Keep areas clean and tidy to ensure that orb weavers have nothing to hide behind.

If you truly want to get rid of your orb weaver problem, you may want to contact a professional pest control company to come and handle them.