You can tell that a lot of people notice this brightly-colored, distinctive spider in their gardens, as it’s collected so many common names: spiny orb weaver, jewel spider, spiny-bellied orbweaver, kite spider, jewel box spider, smiley face spider, crab spider, crablike spiny orbweaver. Good heavens.
The Latin name means roughly “thorn-belly” (Gasteracantha) and “crab shaped” (cancriformis). Adults females are a bright color (white, yellow, or red) with six red or black spines on their spotted, football-shaped abdomen. The underside is black.
The big (9mm wide), jewel-like spiders here are the girls: the males are tiny little things, 2-3mm long, that I barely thought were spiders at first when I found them in my yard. Both sexes add little tufts of silk to their webs, which is honestly the only way I even saw the males.
Gasteracantha cancriformis is native to most of the southeastern United States, and of course in Florida, as well as down through Central and South America toward the Greater Antilles and some of the Bahamian islands. It has been introduced in other areas, including Hawaii.
These spiders are surprisingly short-lived, surviving only until reproduction, which can be only a couple of months after hatching. Females die after laying their eggs, and males die six days after a successful mating. How sad!