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The not-so-scary Joro Spider may be headed to NC, eventually

Detail of a Joro spider on a white backdrop.
Dorothy Kozlowski, University of Georgia Marketing and Communications
University of Georgia Marketing and Communications
The spider is an invasive species in Northeast Georgia.

You may have heard the news about a giant invasive spider that’s headed across to the Eastern United States. PRE’s Meredith Radford spoke to an expert at North Carolina State University, to see just how concerned we should really be.

The Joro spider. A black and yellow striped creature with large spindly leg that can grow to the size of a human palm and parachute from the sky.

But how scary are they really?

Turns out, not at all. They are harmless. At worst, they may be annoying if they decide to build their giant webs across a hiking path or on your house. And at best,

“They’re going to be able to capture some of those flying pests and help doing some of that pest control in your garden.”  

That’s Dr. Kelly Oten, assistant professor and extension specialist in Forest Health at NC State University.

“Given the size of this spider and the general notion that a lot of people do not particularly care for spiders… that’s probably why it’s blowing up in the media now.” 

The Joro spider has been in the United States since 2013, when it was first discovered in Georgia. It’s also since been found in South Carolina. A recent study out of the University of Georgia suggests that the spider may be able to expand its range up the Eastern United States.

The Joro spider is native to southeast Asia. Oten says it likely first came to the United States the same way many invasive species do: as a stowaway on a shipment.

“We have lots of insects, animals, pathogens, plants, that are unintentionally brought to the United States and it’s just one of the unintended consequences of having a global economy.”    

And these spiders aren’t so ‘itsy bitsy.’ They can be around 3 inches, with long legs to match. To some, they might look scary. But Oten says we have little reason for concern.

She says based on research in places where they’re already established, these spiders don’t affect existing ecosystems and food webs.

Oten also says the spiders aren’t harmful to people or pets.

“They’re venomous in that they subdue their prey, but if they actually could bite you, it would probably just hurt… probably feel like a bee sting maybe, and not actually put you in the hospital.”    

And they are unlikely to bite, anyway.

As for the idea that they will parachute down from the sky? Well, that part is somewhat true.

Oten says baby Joro spiders, like many other spider species, use silken strands to catch a breeze that will carry them to new places. This dispersal method is called “ballooning,” and is much like the baby spider scene in the 2006 film, Charlotte’s Web.

The Joro spider’s species will spread as their population grows.

“And this is what invasive species do. They’re introduced to one area and then they spread from there.” 

But it’s going to take time.

There have been two reported sightings of these spiders in Western North Carolina, but they aren’t confirmed. For Eastern North Carolina, Oten says her guess is that it may be five to 10 years before they show up in our communities.

“Yeah, they might be annoying on your porch, but I would recommend just relocating them to your garden so that they can do what they want to do and feed on the bugs that we don’t like.”    

She says that if you spot a Joro spider, snap a picture and show your friends and neighbors.

For Public Radio East, I’m Meredith Radford.

Meredith Radford is a News Reporter for Public Radio East. She studied at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, receiving a degree in Journalism and Political Science. Born and raised in Eastern North Carolina, Meredith is excited to cover the area and contribute to the community. When not out reporting, she enjoys hiking, camping and kayaking as well as baking.