‘Like a Scene Out of ‘Arachnophobia,” Invasive Spiders Take Over Northern Georgia

Scientists are torn on whether the Joro spider could have positive or negative effects on the native ecosystem

A female Joro spiders hangs on its web. It has a yellow and black striped abdomen, with black, yellow and red stripes on its long legs. A smaller, brown male climbs next to her.. The background shows green foliage.
The three-inch Joros can weave their massive webs almost anywhere, including porches, gardens and mailboxes. University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Imagine waking up on a beautiful, brisk fall morning. You take a step onto your porch, but instead of taking in the crisp autumn air and admiring the colorful foliage…you end up entangled in a sticky, ten-foot spider web.

That's the reality for some folks living in northern Georgia, where a spider native to east Asia has taken a foothold and left residents bugging out, reports Sudhin Thanawala for the Associated Press (AP).

The Joro spider—Trichonephila clavate—is a colorful species native to Korea, China, Taiwan and Japan. It was first identified in Georgia in 2014, after likely hitching a ride on a shipping container and ending up on I-85 in Georgia, reports Ben Turner for Live Science.

"Last year, there were dozens of spiders [on my property], and they began to be something of a nuisance when I was doing yard work," Will Hudson, an entomologist at the University of Georgia, says in the press release. "This year, I have several hundred, and they actually make the place look spooky with all the messy webs—like a scene out of 'Arachnophobia.'"

Despite hanging out in Georgia for years, the spiders only emerged in massive numbers recently. Millions have been detected across 25 counties in Georgia, according to a press release.

"We see natural ebbs and flows in the populations of many different species that may be linked to local conditions, particularly slight changes in rainfall," Paula Cushing, an arachnologist at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, tells the AP.

Unfortunately for arachnophobic residents, the three-inch spiders can weave their massive webs almost anywhere, including porches, gardens and mailboxes, reports Hank Rowland for the Brunswick News in Georgia.

Joro spiders have taken over Hudson's porch, making it unusable, and he's had to kill more than 300 females on his property so far this year, Live Science reports.

"The webs are a real mess. Nobody wants to come out of the door in the morning, walk down the steps and get a face full of spider web," Hudson says in the press release. "They are gorgeous spiders, but there are just too damn many of them."

Invasive species—like spotted lanternflies, feral hogs and giant lizards called tegus—are notorious for wreaking havoc on native habitats and outcompeting wildlife, but scientists don't know enough about these leggy critters to definitively say whether or not they'll be harmful, Adam Gabbatt reports for the Guardian.

Nancy Hinkle, an entomologist at the University of Georgia, is hopeful. Joros eat pesky mosquitoes, flies and even brown marmorated stink bugs—a destructive species for crops. Plus, they aren't harmful to humans or pets.

"Joro spiders present us with excellent opportunities to suppress pests naturally, without chemicals, so I’m trying to convince people that having zillions of large spiders and their webs around is a good thing," she says in the press release.

Other scientists aren't so sure. Ann Rypstra, a spider ecologist at Miami University, says more research is needed.

"I’d always err on the side of caution when you have something that establishes itself where it’s not supposed to be," she tells the AP.

Joro spiders will likely die off by the end of November as the weather cools, but experts are expecting them to make a grand reappearance next year. Female Joros will lay their egg sacs—each containing more than 400 spiderlings—soon, and the hatchlings will emerge in the spring. Then, the wind will wisp them away on a strand of silk, carrying them to new regions, or even states, reports Live Science.


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