Halloween Spider

The Marbled Orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus) is one of the most common large orb weaving spiders in North America. It is particularly abundant in Ohio. Even so, many people here never notice them. I believe that this is because they live in wooded areas, typically come out only after dark, and hide in a retreat during the day.

Marbled Orbweaver in her retreat

Marbled Orbweaver in her retreat

This species is extremely variable in color and pattern. Here is Steve Buchanan’s painting of some color forms of the species from plate 9 in Common Spiders of North America:

various color forms of Marbled Orbweaver

various color forms of Marbled Orbweaver

The most common color forms encountered here in Ohio are the yellow and orange varieties. Like most large orbweavers, the Marbled Orbweaver lives less than one year. Young emerge from the egg case in the spring. At that time they are tiny and inconspicuous. By early summer they have grown to small juveniles (1/8 to 1/4 inch body length), and are typically cream or pale yellow with little pattern. By mid summer they are large and well marked. If you encounter one in its web at that time of year, they bear a conspicuous pattern on the abdomen.

young female Marbled Orbweaver in her web

young female Marbled Orbweaver in her web

Marbled Orbweaver in her web

Marbled Orbweaver in her web

Marbled Orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus) female

Marbled Orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus) female

This species builds a beautiful orb-shaped (circular) web low in a tree or herbaceous vegetation near the ground. Most individuals re-build their web every evening. Sometimes they replace only the sticky spiral portion. This difference probably depends upon how much the web is damaged by the previous night’s hunting activity. From the center of the web (the hub) there is a taut “signal line” that extends into the retreat. The spider often stays in the retreat with one or more legs touching the signal line, only emerging when a prey item becomes entangled in the web. She detects the presence of the prey via the signal line which transmits the vibrations made by the struggling prey. It only takes her a moment to rush out to the web, find the prey, and bite. The spider often bites insects on their underside. This ensures that the venom will paralyze the victim quickly because the central nerve cord of insects runs along the midline there.

web of Marbled Orbweaver

web of Marbled Orbweaver

Marbled Orbweaver biting a cricket on its underside, shot in captivity

Marbled Orbweaver biting a cricket on its underside, shot in captivity

I often use a simple vibrator (inexpensive dental tool) to lure spiders out of their retreat. When she comes out and finds no prey item, she quickly retreats.

a small dental tool that makes an excellent vibrating "spider lure"

a small dental tool that makes an excellent vibrating “spider lure”

Marbled Orbweaver lured out of her retreat

Marbled Orbweaver lured out of her retreat

female Marbled Orbweaver climbing back into her retreat

female Marbled Orbweaver quickly climbing back into her retreat

In the summer you may also encounter a male Marbled Orbweaver. These are leggy beasts, with a relatively small abdomen. After achieving maturity, the males spend their short lives searching for females. They quit building capture webs and wander through the vegetation, following pheromone scent trails to females.

Marbled Orbweaver adult male

Marbled Orbweaver adult male

For me one of the fun natural events in Ohio every October is the appearance of “Halloween Spiders.” These large, fat, bright orange spiders seem to appear on cue as the spooky holiday approaches. In fact, these are the orange color form of the Marbled Orbweaver. I’ve recently discovered that the very same individuals that have the typical yellow abdomen in summer, turn orange in October. This may correspond to the changing leaf colors. Many spiders, most famously the flower crab spiders, can change their color to match their background, and thus remain camouflaged. The odd thing in this case is that Marbled Orbweavers are often conspicuously colored, not camouflaged at all, as anyone can see from the other photos in this post.

Marbled Orbweaver in her retreat

Marbled Orbweaver in her retreat

orange color form of Marbled Orbweaver in her retreat

orange color form of Marbled Orbweaver in her retreat

"Halloween Spider" an orange color form of Marbled Orbweaver

“Halloween Spider” an orange color form of Marbled Orbweaver

underside of Marbled Orbweaver

underside of Marbled Orbweaver

These fat orange spiders are pregnant females, their abdomens swollen with hundreds of eggs. Sometimes people find them walking on the ground, driveway, or patio deck. In late October, a grape-sized bright orange spider conjures up the image of a miniature pumpkin, and I have received many excited email messages about them over the years. Fortunately I can re-assure the correspondent that this is merely a harmless female spider searching for a good place to lay her eggs. Perhaps this is the reason for the camo color, because walking through the fallen leaves in the daytime is a real departure from their summer reclusive behavior. These females will die soon after laying their eggs, often coincident with the first hard frosts of autumn.


Comments

Halloween Spider — 51 Comments

  1. I live in Eastern Washington and I’ve found a brown and white variety living in my door frame. She’s been there for months.
    I’m constantly shooing her away from coming into the apartment as I think she considers it a good place to lay eggs.

    • Interesting, I’m not sure which species you are referring to, Marbled Orbweaver? I’m unaware of a brown and white color form but given the variety in this species it is certainly possible. If you get a photo, I’d love to see it.

  2. I found an orange one in N.C. I photographed it with a Nikon D3100 a couple years ago around October… beautiful, slow, clumsy creature.

  3. Justin, maybe you would be willing to share your photo? You can send it to me as an attachment to marionbiology at osu.edu I’ll post your photo on the blog after I get it.

  4. Lee, I don’t know of any records for Araneus marmoreus for Australia, or anywhere else in the southern hemisphere. I certainly never saw any while was living there in the 1980’s. But there are 91 species of the genus Araneus listed for Australia, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those closely resembles A. marmoreus. Or perhaps this species has been recently introduced. If you could send me a photo, I’d be very happy to have a look. You might also want to consult the Australian Arachnologists web site: http://www.australasian-arachnology.org/

  5. I live in alaska and these seem to be everywhere outside of my house, is it possible that they were carried here through a suitcase or something? I killed at least 10 of them on y garage two days ago with my sister and ive been trying to figure out what species it is…

    • Believe it or not, even in Alaska there are hundreds of species of spiders. Without more information and perhaps a specimen, it would be impossible to know what kind you are having trouble with. The best approach is to get a specimen and send it to an arachnologist (spider specialist). Failing that, you can send a photo (a good close up). Here is a link to my submission page: http://osumarion.osu.edu/SpiderWeb/howtomail.htm

    • The species (Araneus marmoreus) does live in Europe and the UK. The color forms that are common there are usually different, but it seems possible that you might have this color form there.

  6. Thank you for this information. I am still a little less wise, as I found a similarly described spider in my basil bush. I have a photograph, which I would be happy to share for further identification, as I am unable to attach here.

    Best regards,

    • William,

      Thanks for writing. I hesitate to post my email contact because of the tsunami of junk email and worse I get. So if you want to post photos and get suggestions for ID, check out the facebook Spiders Ohio group. There are a number of readers who post ID’s for photos (when it is possible from a photo), and I try to check that page relatively often. You could submit your photo and we will reply.

    • Mark, In Germany Araneus marmoreus is possible, but the orange form isn’t as likley. There are other large orange orb-weavers there including Araneus alsine or Araneus quadratus.

    • Kathy, Araneus marmoreus, like almost all spiders, has venom that it uses to subdue its insect prey. The venom is not particularly dangerous to humans, so if bitten by this spider (not a likely event) the result would probably be similar to a bee sting. Orbweavers are famous for being very reluctant to bite, even when handled. Perhaps they are reticent to waste venom on non-prey. The term “poisonous” is properly used to refer to something that is eaten. Spiders and scorpions would be referred to as venomous, and in the case of a few scorpions “toxic” to humans.

  7. I had an expecting mother about a foot from my front doorbell for a few weeks. She barely moved during those weeks and never made a web. Then, she took off when we did some work, with a loud drill, about two feet from her. The worker made me stay and watch her to make sure she kept heading away from the house. LOL

  8. My 17 year old daughter had one living in her window sill and at first she was upset but now she likes her…and now her name is “Olive” – after reading this article she loves Olive and is sad she will only live one year.

  9. There was a web developing in the railing of my outdoor step for a while now and this morning while walking my dogs I got a greeting from its creator. I’m arachnophobic so I took a picture of it and looked it up to make sure it wasn’t dangerous and came across this. It’s kind of funny how it decided to make itself known a couple days from our Oktoberfest here.

  10. Just found one of these lovely ladies in Tama, Iowa! Very awesome to watch…and I am terrified of spiders!!!
    Where can I post pictures?

    • Melissa, sorry I’ve been away from the blog site for a while. You can post insect and/or spider photos at bugguide.net It is an excellent site.

  11. I was walking on the ramp to the house today and saw it crawling slowly across the wood ramp. I took pictures because it was so beautiful and I had never seen any thing like it. I told my friend it looks like a Halloween spider. So surprised when I looked it up. I put it in a jar and now that I read about it and realize she is carrying eggs, I will put her in a safe place to lay her eggs.

  12. Stumbled (not literally) upon one of these in Southeastern Pennsylvania near the Delaware border. It was October 30, 2018 and felt so incredibly serendipitous. Have multiple photos and videos of her movements, clinging to a dead leaf and starting her web from her underside. From the leaf she quickly traversed 5-6 feet dragging her silver thread and headed across pavers to an area of soil, mulch, small tree and plantings.

  13. I was bitten by this spider and I still havent received my spiderman power wtf ?? Very disappointed must continue my search !!

    • How did that happen?? I and my co-workers have handled hundreds of these and related orb-weavers and have never been bitten. What is your special technique? 😉

  14. Just had to look up what this spider was – googled bright orange spider and there it was. Very slow moving and very fat and round. I am NOT a spider lover so she is no longer with us. SQUISH

  15. Just found one here in Jackson Ohio, It is December, just moved it outside. No need to have hundreds of spiders crawling around my garage.

  16. So I have a picture of a spider similar to these. Only mine has green and two almost “spikes” on it abdomen. Bright white markings on the head of the spider looks almost like a skull. I live in Oklahoma and found this spider in a hide hole made from leaves after seeing the biggest orb web I have ever seen. It is so beautiful. About the size of a 25 cent bouncy ball. With its short legs tucked in! Anyways. I’ve searched for a long time trying to find its name. It’s my new fav spider, my first was Argiope Aurantia.

  17. St. Paris, Ohio ( near Dayton,OH) I live on a lake and these spiders are all over the outside trashcan, windows, and doors. They only seem to come out at night, and during these summer months I see them.

      • We saw one of these today in Nottingham, Britain, very unusual…couldn’t really be sure it was British with it’s bright orange body.
        Watched it(she?) walk along the pavement towards bushes.

        • The species (Araneus marmoreus) does occur in Britain, but the orange color form has not been reported there to my knowledge. You do have a similar large orbweaver that is bright orange (Araneus alsine). I’m guessing your observation might be of that species.

  18. My girlfriend found one hiding in the cable TV utility box on her townhouse today in Minnesota, while she was trying to diagnose a connection issue. Gave her quite the scare as it was big and orange.

  19. I live in northeastern Indiana. I have just found a Halloween spider and this is a first for us here at our house. I’m taking it’s a female cause it was fat. I took pictures for my daughter whom loves all insects. Awesome looking spider.

  20. Just saw one of these this morning near the Jersey shore (Oct 25, 2019). Absolutely beautiful! I have never seen one before in all my 62 years! I took a lot of pictures and posted to Instagram and titled it “hallowider” for Halloween Spider

  21. Saw my first Halloween spider today as it was making it’s way across the blacktop. I had never seen one before so I was not certain if it was friend or foe. I allowed it to crawl on a piece of paper and carried it to edge of the driveway and released it underneath the deck. They are very beautiful.

  22. I found one in front of my house in its web across a sidewalk. Had to knock it down though, afraid someone might walk into it walking down the sidewalk. It was the orange one. I live in Richmond, Va.

  23. I found a bright orange Halloween spider in my yard this evening, here in coastal Connecticut. Lots of rain recently so I initially thought the spider was a bright orange mushroom or fungus. Serendipitous to find one and learn about on Halloween. Took some nice photos and video of this brilliantly colored species. Thank you for this page!

  24. Thanks for your informative post! I found a scary looking “orange spider” on one of my steps this morning in Maxatawny Township, Pennsylvania. I did a search on the web and was able to identify the Marbled Orbweaver using your photos and description. I got a decent photo with my iPhone to verify my sighting of the Halloween Spider.

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