Argiope bruennichi (wasp spider) is a species of orb-web spider distributed throughout central Europe, northern Europe, north Africa, parts of Asia, the Azores archipelago, as well as recent sitings in North American states such as Ohio. Like many other members of the genus Argiope, (including St Andrew's Cross spiders), it shows striking yellow and black markings on its abdomen.
The spider builds a spiral orb web at dawn or dusk, commonly in long grass a little above ground level, taking it approximately an hour. The prominent zigzag shape called the stabilimentum, or web decoration, featured at the centre of the orb is of uncertain function, though it may be to attract insects.
When a prey item is first caught in the web, Argiope bruennichi will quickly immobilise its prey by wrapping it in silk. The prey is then bitten and then injected with a paralysing venom and a protein-dissolving enzyme.
During Summer 2006, research was carried out in the UK to find that there has been an influx of these spiders to the UK. The colour is still similar, although the yellow stripes are a bit more cream-coloured.
In 2008, Aidan Grady, Christie van Tinteren and Matthew Secombe were responsible for the discovery of well over 100 of these spiders. The colony was later discovered to be the largest found in the UK. The team worked with Plymouth University and the RSPB to catalogue the discovery and learn more about the spiders. Sir David Attenborough said that the discovery was remarkable.
Besides the nominate subspecies, there is one subspecies currently recognised:Argiope bruennichi nigrofasciata Franganillo, 1910 (Portugal)
Argiope bruennichi display a rather large distinction between males and females with males averaging length of approximately 4.5 mm and females averaging 15 mm. The reasons for this large difference has evolutionary and fitness background with regards to mating as well as cannibalism by the females towards the males after copulation.
The differences of size of these male spiders actually allows the males to come into contact with the females in relation to their orb webs. The male Argiope bruennichi are able to enter into the female's orb and thus make their webs without being detected as prey and thus eaten before they are able to mate, a major fitness advantage.
Certain male Argiope bruennichi have a very important adaptation that they have developed to insure that they will be the only mate with whom the female can produce offspring. Certain males are able to "plug" the female after they have mated with her to prevent other males from copulating with the female. This plugging involves using the entire male's body, thus allowing him to only mate once. This is a major reason as to why these males are always in a rush to mate after the female has completed her final moult. With males always waiting around for the female to reach full maturity, the race is on for the male who is small enough to not be detected, yet is also able to "plug" the female so that no other male can compete for fertilization of her eggs. These spiders have evolved to become monogamous for the most part after mating because of this damage. If the females are only able to reproduce once they must develop method to produce more offspring at one time (per clutch). This can be caused by multiple things, including a sex ratio that forces these males to make sure they have at least one female to produce their offspring simply because there are not as many females present. If these females are only able to mate one time, they need to develop this larger clutch size to ensure that their genes are passed down from the surviving of her first clutch.
The species Argiope bruennichi displays cannibalism when it comes to mating. We can see this because the sex ratio is so biased towards females later in the mating season. With so little females available, the males need to develop their own ways to potentially find and secure a successful mating like small size and proper time to find an immature female. The females, typically much larger in size when compared to the males, almost always consume their male counterpart after copulation. Males can often be seen in or near a female's web waiting for her to complete her final moult, at which time she reaches sexual maturity. At this time her chelicerae (jaws) will be soft for a short time and the male may mate with the female without the danger of being eaten. These males obviously want to avoid getting eaten and this is more or less the only time that they are able to take advantage. Although the cause for this type of dimorphism between sexes seems to have a much larger benefit for the females.