Spined Micrathena - Micrathena gracilis
Family Araneidae - Orb Weaver Spiders

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Live adult spiders photographed in the wild at Winfield, Illinois, USA.
Commonly called the Spined Micrathena, this unobtrusive forest denizen is completely harmless to humans. This spider spins a large, tightly coiled orb web in wooded or brushy areas.  Only females build webs, and the much smaller males hang out in distant corners.

Micrathena spider webs are extremely difficult to see as one walks through the woods - sometimes they are spun horizontally, in which case  a female spider firmly ensconced in the center of the orb is virtually invisible. She will quickly retreat to nearby foliage if disturbed.

References
  1. Bugguide.net, Micrathena
  2. Arthur V. Evans, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America
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Class Arachnida / Order Araneae: Spiders are the largest group of arachnids.  They are easily recognized by their eight legs, and there are few creatures great or small that elicit such irrational fear in mankind. The vast majority of spiders are completely harmless and offer beneficial services, chief of which is keeping the burgeoning insect population in check. I am continually amazed at the resourcefulness of these supremely successful predators.
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