Saturday, December 28, 2013

A striped spider

The banded argiope was first recorded in the Maltese islands in 2003. The first specimen was found in Gozo but since then it has been found in Malta and nowadays seems to have established itself firmly on the two islands although it is nowhere common.

It is a cosmopolitan species. In Europe it was restricted to several archipelagos of the southern Atlantic including Madeira and the Canary Islands. In the early eighties it was recorded in south-eastern Spain and later in southern Portugal and the Balearic Islands.

Since then it has continued to expand its range and has now been recorded from Sardinia, Sicily and Malta.

In America where it is widespread throughout most of the continent, it is sometimes called the banded garden spider or the garden spider. In Maltese it has been named brimba rrigata.
The banded argiope is large and impressive but it is not the only large spider one can find in the Maltese islands. The most common is the lobed argiope, known in Maltese as brimba kbira tal-widien. This species is found in valleys and in wooded areas including gardens.

Another species known scientifically as Argiope bruennichi is now extinct from the Maltese islands. One of the last individuals of this species was found at Buskett in 1976.

The scientific name argiope is Latin for “with bright face”.

The argiope family consists of 78 species. Members of this family can be found on all continents except Antarctica.

The argiopes are well known for their large webs which are often decorated with a zigzag band of silk called stabilimentum. This feature makes the web more visible which might reduce the number of insects that are caught in it but studies have shown that the stabilimentum also reduces the number of birds flying through the web. This gives spiders which build more visible webs an advantage over others which do not, as they do not have to rebuild a new web every time it is damaged or destroyed.  

This article was published in the Times of Malta on 23 October 2013

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