Asian spider population explodes in South Carolina and Georgia

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ATLANTA (AP) – A large spider native to East Asia has woven its thick golden web on power lines, porches and vegetable gardens across northern Georgia this year – a proliferation that has made some homeowners angry inside and caused a flood of social anxiety. media messages.

On the Atlanta subway, Jennifer Turpin – a self-proclaimed arachnophobe – stopped blowing leaves in her garden after inadvertently stepping into a web created by the spider Joro. Stephen Carter avoided a footpath along the Chattahoochee River where he encountered Joro’s webs every dozen paces.

Further east in Winterville, Georgia, Will Hudson’s porch became unusable amid an abundance of Joro’s 10ft (3m) deep canvases. Hudson estimates he’s killed over 300 of the spiders on his property.

“The webs are a real mess,” said Hudson, an entomologist at the University of Georgia. “No one wants to go out in the morning, go down the steps and have a spider web in their face.”

The Joro – Trichonephila clavata – is one of a group of spiders known as Orb Weavers for their highly organized, wheel-shaped webs. Common in Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan, Joro females have colorful yellow, blue, and red markings on their bodies. They can be three inches (8 cm) in diameter when their legs are fully extended.

It’s unclear exactly how and when the first Joro spider arrived in the United States. In Georgia, a researcher identified one about 80 miles northeast of Atlanta in 2014. They were also found in South Carolina, and Hudson is confident they will. spread throughout the south.

Researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina said in a fact sheet published online in August that they “do not yet know if there will be any negative impacts of this non-native species on the local ecology. of South Carolina “.

It is also unclear why they are so abundant this year, although experts agree their numbers have skyrocketed.

“We are seeing natural ebbs and flows in populations of many different species that may be related to local conditions, especially slight changes in precipitation,” said Paula Cushing, an arachnologist at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

Cushing and other experts claim that Joros does not pose a threat to humans, dogs and cats and will not bite them unless they feel very threatened. Hudson said a researcher who collected them with her bare hands reported occasional pinching, but said the spiders never broke her skin.

Researchers, however, don’t fully agree on the spider’s possible impact on other species and the environment.

Debbie Gilbert, 67, doesn’t wait to find out. She has adopted a zero tolerance policy for spiders around her home in Norcross, Georgia, twisting their webs with a stick, knocking them down and stomping on them.

“I am not advocating killing anything. I live in peace with all the spiders here and everything, ”she said. “But (Joros) has no place here, that’s all.”

Turpin, 50, tried to set Joro’s spider web on fire in his East Cobb home, but was later afraid it would fall on him and fell into a hole while she was doing quickly reverse. She asked a neighbor to remove it instead.

“I just don’t think I’m going to be gardening anymore,” 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 marble bugs, which are serious pests for many cultures.

” That’s wonderful. That’s exciting. Spiders are our friends, ”she said. “They are there to catch any pests that we don’t want in our house.”

Ann Rypstra, who studies spider behavior at the University of Miami, was more cautious in her assessment of the Jora’s potential impacts, saying more research was needed.

“I always err on the side of caution when you have something setting up where it’s not supposed to be,” she said.

Home gardeners and naturalists have expressed concerns about the safety of native spiders and bees and other pollinators.

Cushing said the Joros are probably big enough to tackle large pollinators caught in their webs, but these insects can be an insignificant part of their diet. Rypstra studied a similar species of spider and said their webs are used by other spiders as a food source, so the Joro could help native spiders. But she said there was also evidence that Joros was in competition with other orb weavers.

The bottom line: there are a lot of unknowns.

Most of the Joros are expected to die by the end of November, but they could return in equally large numbers, if not greater, next year, although scientists say even that is difficult to predict with certainty.

Anthony Trendl, homeowner in Suwanee, Georgia, is taking advantage for the time being. He launched a website, jorospider.com, to share his enthusiasm for spiders and foster their understanding. While they raise concern and can be scary, they are also beautiful, he said.

“Things have been difficult,” he said. “I wanted to find good in this world. For me, nature is an easy place to find.


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