"I found a spider in my shed. It's got black-and-grey striped legs and a big yellow body about the size of a jellybean. It has four holes on its back, like someone poked it with a pin. Could you tell me what it is and if it's dangerous?" Fortunately, none of us at the desk that day were too terribly arachnophobic, so we were happy to help.
After looking through the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders by Lorus and Margery Milne, we realized that there are quite a few spiders with striped legs and large yellow bodies. The patron offered to bring in the spider so we could compare it to the pictures. By the time they arrived, the spider had already started spinning a web in its jar.
Putting "Ohio spider identification" into an online search engine brought up a PDF of the Common Spiders of Ohio Field Guide, written by Richard A. Bradley, and provided by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. We determined that the spider in question was most likely a variable orb weaver, which are active in Ohio from July to September. We had been calling the spider a "he," but its large size indicated that it was probably a female.
Searching “orb weaver dangerous” brought up www.termite.com/spider-identification.html#orbweaving and http://bugguide.net/node/view/1972, both of which assured us that orb weavers are not aggressive and, though they may bite if they feel threatened, the bite is comparable to a bee sting and, for most people, is nothing serious.
Famous orb weavers include Charlotte from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. The clue is in her full name, Charlotte A. Cavatica. According to http://bugguide.net, Araneus Cavaticus is the scientific name for a certain kind of orb weaver more commonly known as a barn spider.
For more information, our patron could check out Adrienne Mason’s The World of the Spider, Richard Alan Bradley’s Common Spiders of North America, or Spiders: Learning to Love Them by Lynne Kelly, a self-proclaimed arachnophobe who decided to overcome her fear by becoming a spider-watcher. The World of the Spider is available here at Newton Falls Public Library, and both other books are available through the shared CLEVNET catalogue.