Best Mosquito Killer on the Block

Black and Yellow Argiope, photo/Nicole Caldwell
There's any number of ways to eradicate pests, fertilize your plants, or prevent bug bites. Unfortunately, most of these options include harmful chemicals that are about as far away as you can get from keeping yourself safe and healthy. The practice of Permaculture, on the other hand, models human settlements and agricultural systems on relationships found in natural ecologies.

Permaculture methods are near and dear to our hearts at Better Farm; where we do all we can to encourage natural systems to do most of our dirty work (mulch gardening, companion planting, clothesline drying, rainwater harvesting, and so on. We're even looking into starting up a small beekeeping station near the garden to encourage bumble bees to pull up a chair and stay a while.

So my discovery last week of an ENORMOUS Black and Yellow Argiope taking up residence on Better Farm's front deck (complete with Fort Knox-esque webbery) led me to inquire a little bit about what kind of magical creature this could be—and what benefits it could be providing for the people here.  A little research by Better Farmer Tyler Howe led us to the following information:

The Black and Yellow Argiope is a common orb web spider. Orb web means it spins a web like a circle. Female spiders are much larger than males, growing almost an inch and a half long (editor's note—the spider on our front deck looks way bigger than 1.5 inches!!). Males grow about 3/4 inch long. Both spiders have a cephalothorax (small front body section) with silver hairs on it. The abdomen (large back section) is egg-shaped with black and yellow coloring. Legs of these spiders are black with red or yellow bands. Each leg has three claws on the end. Black and Yellow Argiopes live in fields and gardens. They can be found on shrubs, tall plants, and flowers. The web of this spider spirals out from the center and can be two feet across. The female builds the large web, and a male will build a smaller web on the outer part of her web. The male's web is a thick zig-zag of white silk.

Adorable. But here's the best part:

Black and Yellow Garden Spiders are harmless to humans. Because they are large, many people fear them; however, not only are they harmless, but they do a lot of good. These spiders eat large amounts of insect pests, such as flies, mosquitoes, and aphids.

Say bye bye bug zapper! Ditch the deet! Off the Off! Okay, okay. It's not like our own little Charlotte is going to remove our need to protect ourselves from the dreaded black flies, mosquitoes, or deer flies. But having friends like her (and our darling Better Farm dragonflies) does make a difference. Just another reason to keep the toxins away from your shrubs and gardens. Spiders like this should have a safe place to live so they can do what they do and, in doing so, help protect you from bug bites.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.