If you haven’t encountered Joro’s colorful and massive spider yet, you may soon discover the invasive species if you live on the East Coast, scientists predict.
The predominantly yellow spider, which can grow as big as the palm of your hand, was first spotted in Georgia in 2013. Native to Asia, there’s no clear answer as to how it arrived in the United States, except that it probably came in a delivery package. But in nearly 10 years, the species quickly spread across Georgia and other parts of the Southeast.
Now, University of Georgia scientists claim in a study published in the journal Physiological Entomology that the Joro spider could take over much of the East Coast in the coming years.
“People should try to learn to live with them,” said Andy Davis, a researcher at Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology and co-author of the study. “If they’re literally in your way, I can see taking a web down and moving them to the side, but they’re just going to come back next year.”
The scientists came to their conclusion by comparing the Joro spider to its relative, the golden silk spider. Known as the “banana spider”, the golden silk spider is native to tropical regions of Central and South America, but made its way to the southeastern United States about 150 years ago and also took control of the region, making it “the perfect experiment” to use for comparison.
But even though the golden silk spider population has increased, it has yet to expand in the North because the spider is sensitive to cold. Scientists collected the two species and measured many physical traits as well as their adaptation to different environmental conditions, including brief periods of below-freezing temperatures.
The results showed that the Joro spiders, compared to their relatives, had twice the metabolism, a 77% higher heart rate at low temperatures and survived 74% of the time in sub-zero temperatures, while that the survival rate of the golden silk spider was only 50%. Scientists have also noticed that the species does well in Japan, with some regions having similar climates to those in the northeast.
“Although we should not draw any drastic conclusions from this comparison of just two species, it is at least clear that the Joro spider has a physiology more adapted to a cooler environment than its congener,” the study says.
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Davis also noted that humans play a role in how far the species could spread, as they can hitchhike on vehicles and in containers. He said he heard reports that someone “accidentally” transported a Joro spider to Oklahoma.
The size of the spider can scare people away, but experts say they shouldn’t worry. They are poisonous, but they do not bite humans unless cornered. In addition, their fangs do not penetrate human skin.
University of Georgia entomologist Nancy Hinkle told USA TODAY in September that Joro spiders also serve as “pest control,” feeding on insects like mosquitoes, flies and bedbugs. The birds also prey on the spiders, but the official impact on the Southeast and its species has yet to be determined.
So if you do encounter a Joro spider, leave it alone, says Benjamin Frick, a graduate student in the University of Georgia’s Integrative Conservation and Sustainability program and co-author of the study.
“There’s really no reason to actively crush them,” Frick said. “Humans are behind their invasion. Don’t blame the spider Joro.”
Contributor: Jay Cannon, USA TODAY; Wayne Ford, Banner Herald of Athens
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.