Along came a spider: Joro spiders making themselves at home in Georgia | News | rockdalenewtoncitizen.com

2022-07-17 17:36:10 By : Ms. NANCY MA

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The Joro spider arrived in the U.S. almost a decade ago and has since made itself quite comfortable in Georgia and other states in the Southeast.

You’ll often see smaller, red-brown spiders (right) in the webs of the black-and-yellow female spiders. Those are the male Joros, which float into the webs on a strand of silk.

Female Joro spiders can grow up to 3 inches across with their legs extended, but researchers say they’re a fairly timid spider that’s more apt to flee than attack.

The Joro spider arrived in the U.S. almost a decade ago and has since made itself quite comfortable in Georgia and other states in the Southeast.

You’ll often see smaller, red-brown spiders (right) in the webs of the black-and-yellow female spiders. Those are the male Joros, which float into the webs on a strand of silk.

Female Joro spiders can grow up to 3 inches across with their legs extended, but researchers say they’re a fairly timid spider that’s more apt to flee than attack.

Joro spiders are polarizing figures.

If you live in Georgia, you’ve likely seen the massive-but-harmless spiders hanging between power lines or from the eaves of your house, their golden webs glistening in the sunlight.

While some find them a fascinating effect of globalization, others don’t care how they got here. They just want them gone.

But don’t grab the flamethrower just yet.

The East Asian Joro spider, officially known as Trichonephila clavata, likely arrived in the U.S. on a shipping container around 2013. The species is native to Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China.

Female Joros have bright yellow and blue-black markings with red underbellies. They can grow up to 3 inches across when their legs are fully extended, which is similar in size to the common banana spider.

Often, you’ll see one or more smaller, brownish-red spiders hanging in the same web as a female. Those are male Joros. They float into the female’s golden web, riding the breeze on a strand of silk, says Byron Freeman, director of the Georgia Museum of Natural History and faculty in the University of Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology. That silk is stronger and, some think, stickier than your average garden spider.

If those dates are successful, the female Joro lays as many as 1,000 eggs before dying in late fall. The spiderlings overwinter as eggs and hatch in the spring, when they use their silk to float to new locations, a common spider behavior known as ballooning.

Joros are typically rather timid and are more likely to run away from you than try to bite. Even if they try, most of them have fangs that are too small to puncture human skin, according to Andy Davis, an assistant research scientist in the School of Ecology who studies the spiders.

In short, researchers don’t know yet.

“It’s too early to say one way or the other,” Davis says. “A lot of people think that this spider is destroying the ecosystem, and we actually don’t think that, at least not yet.”

To the common observer, it sure seems like the Joros experienced exponential growth recently, particularly during the past two years. But researchers aren’t concerned yet. The spiders don’t seem to have decimated local spider or other insect populations. And they’re not harmful to people or pets either.

“There’s no indication that it will be invasive to the extent that it would be disruptive or economically costly,” says UGA entomologist E. Richard Hoebeke at the Georgia Museum of Natural History. “But that’s one of the reasons we intend to study this spider a little bit further.

“What’s the extent of its distribution in the South and beyond? How does it interact with native spiders — might it actually displace some of them, like the big garden spiders? Those are some of the questions we want to explore.”

We do know that Joros munch on stink bugs, something other local spiders don’t find appetizing. Stink bugs, a much-maligned — justifiably so — invasive species, don’t have many natural predators. So the Joros may provide welcome relief from the pesky critters that crowd into your home by the thousands. (Yep. If you see one, there are probably exponentially more hiding in your house’s cracks and crevices. Joros aren’t looking as bad now, are they?)

In theory, Joros could also provide a new food source for larger insects and birds.

The dewdrop spider, a species that steals its food from other spiders, appears to be one fan of its new neighbors. The spiders have been seen hanging around in Joro webs, hoping to pilfer their next meal.

When they’re done taking over Georgia, where will Joro spiders go next?

Potentially the entire Eastern Seaboard.

Davis partnered with undergraduate researcher Benjamin Frick to track Joro sightings and test the spider’s biological functions for a paper published in February. The scientists found that the species has a high metabolism, high heart rate, and a high ability to withstand the cold.

That suggests Joros can likely exist beyond the borders of the Southeast. Plus, the East Coast lies at similar latitudes to the spider’s native Japan, another indication that the species could spread.

“The potential for these spiders to be spread through people’s movements is very high,” Frick says. “Anecdotally, right before we published this study, we got a report from a grad student at UGA who had accidentally transported one to Oklahoma.”

Davis and Frick suggest we learn to live with the new species because it is not going away any time soon.

One thing people can do is report sightings to help researchers track the species’ spread.

“The best thing we can do with the introduction of a new, non-native species is to catch it in the early stages,” says Chuck Bargeron, director of the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. A UGA Cooperative Extension and Outreach Center, the center is jointly housed in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

“We’ve been encouraging people who see a Joro spider to take a picture of it and report it through EDDMapS,” he continues. “That helps us keep track of the species’ spread over time.”

EDDMapS is one of many center-developed apps and websites that enables citizen-scientists to contribute to the mapping and tracking of non-native species.

What won’t help is spraying pesticides and squishing spiders right and left. Sure, you’ll kill individual spiders, but they’ll just be replaced with new ones.

“Spraying too many pesticides for something that may not even be a problem is going to impact other species and is not the answer,” Bargeron says. “It goes back to the fact that people are scared of spiders, so they kill the spider when they see it. Pesticides just aren’t an appropriate way of dealing with these spiders.”

Such resistance is futile anyway. There’s really no stopping the Joros — with pesticides, a shoe, or a blowtorch. The spiders are here now, and they’re making the best of their situation.

“Humans are at the root of their invasion,” Frick says. “Don’t blame the Joro spider.”

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