Cochise County Spiders: The Western Spotted Orbweaver, Neoscona Oaxacensis

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The little spider turned out to be a Neoscona oaxacensis or Western Spotted Orbweaver, though it took a while to figure that out. Our Cochise County homestead was being shown to our new part time employee (hired as a part time companion for my disabled wife) and her husband. The eight-legged, small but colorful, was hanging out in midair between the rooftop of a propane shed and the top of a nearby propane bottle. I paused long enough to snap a quick photo…

…and that was that.

Had I known the light was perfect, able to produce an incredibly sharp picture of the spider, I’d have been rude to our guests and taken shots from more angles, but hey. One excellent snapshot is infinitely better than none.

Once identified, the Neoscona oaxacensis is unmistakable. The bright yellow pattern on the egg shaped abdomen is a dead giveaway even though each individual spider apparently sports a variation in patterning as unique as a human fingerprint. Some Western Spotted Orbweavers don’t even have spots! Additionally, the gray, somewhat wedge shaped head on this variety is also distinctive. The brown-black-and-yellowish banded legs are hairy, though the hairs are a bit widely spaced…or perhaps those “hairs” are really bristles; they certainly stick out like bristles.

What fooled me at first when it came to identifying this critter as an orbweaver was the simple fact that I didn’t see the typical round web of that clan. However, a bit of research informed me that (a) not all orbweavers spin those traditional webs, and (b) it’s common for an orbweaver to hang out at some distance from the killing web, suspended on a single thread of silk–as this one is. If you look closely, you can see that several “feet” (i.e. tips of legs) of the spider are touching the silk strand.

Which is apparently enough to support the entire spider just fine.

Western Spotted Orbweaver spider, Neoscona oaxacensis, hanging out on a single thread of silk in southern Cochise County, Arizona, on September 21, 2014.

Western Spotted Orbweaver spider, Neoscona oaxacensis, hanging out on a single thread of silk in southern Cochise County, Arizona, on September 21, 2014.

I’m guessing this one was a small male as the males of the species tend to range in size from less than a quarter inch to just a smidgen under half an inch in length–and our model was definitely not very big, hitting an estimated 3/8 inch in length, right in the middle of the known range for his gender. Grown-up girl Neoscona oaxacensis, on the other hand, can reach nearly two thirds of an inch in length and seldom top out at much less than half an inch.

So…as any intelligent reader might want to know, are these orbweavers dangerous?

Answer: To humans, no. Every spider packs venom, but (a) the Western Spotted Orbweaver does not bite unless it feels threatened, and (b) a Neoscona oaxacensis bite might feel like a bee sting but is not considered dangerous to humans at any life threatening level–unless you’re an arachnophobe, in which case the very thought of getting bitten might give you a heart attack.

To insects who stumble into its web, the orbweaver is of course very dangerous indeed.

It’s also usually a night hunter, which might explain why I’d not spotted one before this.

4 thoughts on “Cochise County Spiders: The Western Spotted Orbweaver, Neoscona Oaxacensis

  1. I have seen orbweavers before, but not this variety. One I saw in Tennessee was about 2 inches long and 3.4″ wide. It was attached to its web and munching on a bug. They also had some really big wolf spiders there. David would use his feet in a vee shape to herd them out of the house. Katy is an arachnophobe and we don’t have many in our house luckily.

  2. Two inches is a pretty impressive spider size, other than some of the really big garden spiders and of course the tarantula. (We love our tarantulas.) I can just see those big Katz feet herding the wolfies, though; love the image. Don’t envy Katy the arachnophobia; I had a pretty severe in-head trauma over rattlesnakes for my first 30 years or so. It’s no fun.

  3. I don’t like spiders. We have wolfies here too and they scare the daylights out of me. Occasionally I find them in the house. They’re huge! When I find one I know it’s just a matter of days before I spot the other. They seem to travel in pairs, but don’t show up at the same time or in the same spot. There’s only two spiders here that don’t scare me and I’ve never seen them in the house. One is very tiny and fluorescent green. The other is also tiny, but has a red, white, and blue shell. At least it appears to be a shell. They’re actually pretty cool looking.

  4. Those do sound like cool spiders. The one on this page was really pretty small AND outside with no apparent interest in coming inside. The only concerns I have about “inside” spiders are the ultra-venomous versions like black widow and brown recluse or similar species. Plus, for whatever reason, I simply cannot get myself to be neutral about daddy long legs. But we love our wolfies and also the big, hairy trantulas. Never noticed the wolf spiders traveling in pairs, though. Could be a regional thing, or maybe you’re just a lot more observant than I am….:)

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