ATLANTA – A large spider native to East Asia is spinning its thick, golden web on power lines, porches and vegetable patches across northern Georgia this year – a spread that has driven some anxious homeowners indoors and prompted a slew of anxious social media posts.
In metro Atlanta, self-described arachnophobe Jennifer Turpin stopped blowing leaves in her yard after inadvertently walking into a web created by a guru spider. Stephen Carter avoided a walking path along the Chattahoochee River as he encountered Joro Nets every tens of steps.
Far east in Winterfell, Georgia, Will Hudson’s front porch is rendered unusable amid an abundance of 10-foot (3-meter) deep Joro nets. Hudson estimates that he killed more than 300 spiders on his property.
“Networks are a real mess,” said Hudson, an entomologist at the University of Georgia. “No one wants to walk out the door in the morning, walk down the stairs and have a face full of spider webs.”
The Joro – Trichonephila clavata – is part of a group of spiders known as orb weavers for their highly organized wheel-shaped webs. Common in Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan, female guru have yellow, blue, and red colored markings on their bodies. They can measure 3 inches (8 cm) when their legs are fully extended.
It is not clear exactly how and when the first spider guru reached the United States. In Georgia, a researcher identified one 80 miles (128 km) northeast of Atlanta in 2014. They were also found in South Carolina, and Hudson is convinced they will. spread across the south.
It’s also not clear why they’re in abundance this year, although experts agree their numbers have exploded.
“We see natural tides in groups of many different species that may be related to local conditions, particularly subtle changes in precipitation,” said Paula Cushing, an aquabiologist at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Cushing and other experts say that Joros are not a threat to humans or dogs and cats and will not bite them unless they feel very threatened. Hudson said a researcher collecting her with her bare hands reported an accidental pinch, but said spiders never broke their skin.
However, researchers do not fully agree on the effect, if any, of the spider has on other species and the environment.
Debbie Gilbert, 67, can’t wait to find out. She has adopted a zero-tolerance policy for spiders around her home in Norcross, Georgia, wrapping their webs with a stick, dropping and trampling them.
I don’t advocate killing anything. I live at peace with all the spiders here and everything else. “But (Gurus) doesn’t belong here, that’s it.”
Turpin, 50, tried to set fire to a guru’s spider web in her East Cobb home, but then got scared that it would fall on her and fall into a ditch as she quickly retreated. She had a neighbor remove it instead.
“I don’t think I’m going to do yard work anymore,” she said.
Goros helps suppress mosquitoes and killer flies, said another entomologist Nancy Henkel at the University of Georgia, one of the few spiders that will capture and eat brown stink bugs, which are dangerous pests of many crops.
“That’s cool. That’s exciting. Spiders are our friends,” she said. “They’re out there hunting all the pests we don’t want around our house.”
Ann Ripstra, who studies spider behavior at the University of Miami, has been more circumspect in her assessment of possible Jura effects, saying more research is needed.
“I’ve always erred on the side of caution when you have something that establishes itself in a place where it’s not supposed to 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 whether there will be any negative effects from this non-native species on the local environment in South Carolina.”
Amateur gardeners and naturalists have raised concerns about the safety of native spiders, bees, and other pollinators.
Cushing said Joros may be large enough to stand up to large pollinators caught in their nets, but that these insects may be a tiny part of their diet. Rypstra has studied a similar type of spider and said that its webs are used by other spiders as a food source, so Joro may help domestic spiders. But she said there is also evidence that Uros competes with other weavers.
Conclusion: There are many unknowns.
Most Joros are expected to die by late November, but they may return in large or even greater numbers next year, although scientists say even this is difficult to predict with certainty.
Anthony Trindell, a homeowner in Suwanee, Georgia, is enjoying it at the moment. He created a website, jorospider.com, to share his enthusiasm about spiders and advance their understanding. He said that while they raise fears and can be intimidating, they are also beautiful.
“Things have been difficult,” he said. “I wanted to find some good in this world. For me, nature is an easy place to find.”