A sign that we are definitely in late summer, inching inexorably towards autumn: yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia) have started to spin their webs among the flower beds. Every year, they seem to appear suddenly out of nowhere, but I suppose they have been present all spring and summer and have finally become large enough for me to notice. They are still not full size and will grow noticeably bigger and fatter in the next month.
They seem to love to spin their webs in the lantana bushes, where they capture many butterflies.
Sometimes they catch bigger prey.
One morning last September, I noticed that the cats were intent on something squeaking pathetically in a large Lantana ‘Miss Huff’. It was a hummingbird trapped in the web of a very large garden spider. In this somewhat blurry photo, the spider is at the top of the frame, slowly descending her web towards the trapped bird.
At first I thought that I was too late and the bird had already been bitten, because when I pulled it from the web, it just lay quivering in the palm of my hand.
I was trying to decide if I needed to administer the coup de grâce, when I realized that the bird was immobilized by a few strands of almost invisible spider silk. After I carefully removed the threads from its wings and tail, it sat up in my hand and then zoomed away into the trees.
If you have a strong stomach, a web search will turn up photos of less fortunate hummers, so if you have a hummingbird feeder or plants that attract them, it might be a good idea to relocate garden spiders that build their webs to close to the flight paths.