ATLANTA (AP) – A large spider native to East Asia has spun its thick, gold web on power lines, porches and vegetable patches across northern Georgia this year – a spread that has driven some exasperated homeowners into the home and a flurry of fearful social People has triggered media coverage.
On Metro Atlanta, Jennifer Turpin – a self-described spider phobia – stopped blowing leaves in her garden after accidentally walking into a web created by the joro spider. Stephen Carter avoided a hiking trail along the Chattahoochee River where he encountered joro nets every dozen steps.
Further east in Winterville, Georgia, Will Hudson’s porch became unusable amid an abundance of ten-foot-deep joro nets. Hudson estimates he killed more than 300 spiders on his property.
“The nets are a real mess,” said Hudson, an entomologist at the University of Georgia. “Nobody wants to come out the door in the morning and go down the stairs and get a face full of cobwebs.”
The Joro – Trichonephila clavata – belongs to a group of spiders known as spherical weavers because of their highly organized, wheel-shaped webs. Joro females are common in Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan and have brightly colored yellow, blue, and red markings on their bodies. They can reach a diameter of 8 cm when their legs are fully extended.
It is not exactly clear how and when the first Joro spider arrived in the United States. In Georgia in 2014, a researcher identified a spider about 128 km northeast of Atlanta. They were also found in South Carolina, and Hudson believes they will spread across the south.
It’s also not clear why they’re so abundant this year, though experts agree that their numbers have skyrocketed.
“We’re seeing natural ups and downs in populations of many different species that may be related to local conditions, particularly slight changes in rainfall,” said Paula Cushing, arachnologist at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
Cushing and other experts say Joros pose no threat to humans or dogs and cats and will not bite them unless they feel very threatened. Hudson said a researcher who collected them with bare hands reported the occasional pinching, but said the spiders never broke their skin.
However, researchers disagree on what impact, if any, the spider will have on other species and the environment.
Debbie Gilbert, 67, isn’t waiting to find out. She has a zero tolerance policy for the spiders at her home in Norcross, Georgia by wrapping their webs with a stick, tripping them, and trampling them.
“I am not advocating killing anything. I live in peace with all the spiders here and everything else, ”she said. “But (Joros) just don’t belong here, that’s all.”
Turpin, 50, attempted to set fire to a joro spider web in her East Cobb home but was then afraid it would fall on her and fell into a hole as she quickly stepped back. Instead, she had a neighbor remove it.
“I just don’t think I’ll be doing any more gardening,” she said.
Nancy Hinkle, another entomologist at the University of Georgia, said Joros helps suppress mosquitoes and biting flies and is one of the few spiders to catch and eat brown marbled stink bugs, which are serious pests to many plants.
“That’s wonderful. That is exciting. Spiders are our friends, ”she said. “They’re out there catching all the pests we don’t want in our house.”
Ann Rypstra, who studies spider behavior at Miami University, was more cautious in her assessment of the potential effects of the jora, saying that more research was needed.
“I would always be on the safe side when you have something that takes hold where it shouldn’t be,” she said.
Researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina were also more cautious, saying in a fact sheet published online in August that they “do not yet know if there will be any negative effects of this alien species on the local ecology of South Carolina”.
Hobby gardeners and naturalists have raised concerns about the safety of native spiders and bees and other pollinators.
Cushing said joros are likely big enough to house large pollinators trapped in their nets, but these insects could be an insignificant part of their diet. Researching a similar species of spider, Rypstra said their webs are used as a source of food by other spiders so the Joro could help local spiders. But she said there is also evidence that Joros competes with other ball weavers.
Conclusion: There are many unknowns.
Most Joros are expected to die by the end of November, but they could return in the same or even greater numbers next year, though scientists say even that is difficult to predict with certainty.
Anthony Trendl, a homeowner in Suwanee, Georgia, is enjoying it right now. He started a website jorospider.comto share his enthusiasm and understanding for the spiders. While they can raise concerns and be scary, they are beautiful too, he said.
“It was a tough walk,” he said. “I wanted to find something good in this world. For me, nature is an easy place to find it.”