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Spider Season/Great Georgia Joro Invasion

No, I don't want them crawling on me and I don't keep them as pets, but spiders - like pretty much everything else in nature - totally fascinate me. And it's that time of year when you can find them pretty much anywhere.


Typically, in my neck of the woods, you would find a fun variety of big garden spiders with their zippered webs and orb weavers who industriously build their webs each night and tear them down (and eat them, incidentally) every morning. I would see them on lamp posts, tethered between trees and fences, nestled in the eves of the barn, or even spinning their perfectly circular webs on the birdfeeders in my backyard...






 

The photos above are actually from a couple of years ago. I haven't been seeing these guys as regularly as I used to as of late. Apparently, the reason for that is the recent arrival of the extraordinary Joro.


One (or perhaps a cluster) of these shy giants stowed away on a cargo ship that made its way from Asia to the ports of Savannah, GA. The Joro(s) then migrated into the northern suburbs of Atlanta, where they were first officially spotted in 2013. Now, ten years later, they blanket the northeast portion of the state and have even been reported in neighboring North Carolina. It took a little while, but they've even joined us here in the jungles of Smyrna, where they cover the trees and overgrowth in shady, wooded areas. It's so strange that Georgia, of all places, is the only non-Asian location for these shy, beautiful creatures. Makes me feel kinda special that they chose to honor my home state with their presence...


Female Joros are known for their bright, intricate, and colorful patterning, as well as their impressive size. I love that they are one of those rare species that favors the female. She dwarfs her male companion and outshines him in every way. As it should be. ;) She takes the prominent position in the web while her mate hovers around her. Almost as if he's poised to be at her beck and call.


A striking and imposing female Joro with her tiny, nondescript male companion looking on.

And speaking of the web... Joros are communal spiders that build huge, multi-layer webs out of incredibly strong, golden yellow silk. Dozens may inhabit a single "apartment complex" web, the layers of which allow the family to capture endless varieties of prey. As Georgia is inundated with mosquitos in the summer and the dreaded stink bug in the fall, this ability made the Joros a welcome addition to the Georgia landscape. At least initially, that is...

Assassin Bug Takedown! (And notice all the gnats and 'skeeters in that web! Thank you, ma'am!)

The Joro, by definition, is an invasive species. It is capable of spinning a "balloon web" which can be picked up by the wind to carry spiderlings and adults to new locations, where they can further grow the Joro army. Birds and other predators don't recognize it or know what to do with it, so it is able to propagate at incredible rates, and its enormous web is a literal catch-all. While we southerners will welcome anything that can thin out our herds of seasonal foes, we aren't thrilled to find our (sometimes endangered) friends in those sticky webs, too. Read, the honeybee. Pretty much everyone is aware that our US honeybee population is facing a crisis right now, thanks to parasites, disease, pesticide use, and habitat destruction (humans are the worst). But, here in Georgia, our most productive pollinators must now battle with the hungry Joro, as well:


As happy as I am to see a web spotted with incredibly annoying mosquitos, it is heartbreaking to see our lady huntress noshing on a beloved honeybee. :(

The Great Georgia Joro Invasion is not only problematic for our wild honeybees, but it is also impacting our native spiders as well. While the Joro is not a predator of the more common orb weaver varieties, research is showing a correlation between ever-increasing numbers of Joros and a drastic decrease in the presence of the typical fall spiders that used to pepper the landscape. Perhaps because the Joro webs are so complex and adept at capturing prey, the orb weavers and garden spiders that used to call my backyard home have moved on to areas where there isn't quite so much competition for food. Normally, by this time of year, I would have seen dozens upon dozens of hairy brown orb weavers, shield-shaped spiny-backed orb weavers, or huge, striped garden spiders with their infamous zippered webs. This year, however, I have seen less than a handful. I'm not entirely certain what that will mean for the future of our local ecosystem, but it is concerning, for sure.


This brave little red-femured orb weaver is one of only a few I've seen this year. It set up shop on a temporary road sign, where the nearby tree-line had already been claimed by countless Joros. (I love the rainbow lighting behind her, though!)

While scientists seem to think that the Joro is here to stay, they also believe that overpopulation issues will sort themselves out. Surely it's just a matter of time before our native birds and other arachnid predators figure out that Joros are a tasty (and substantial) treat, right? And maybe our local spiders will learn to cohabitate peacefully with their new neighbors. My bite-ridden ankles and elbows can certainly attest to the fact that there is plenty of food to go around, after all. In the meantime, teams of scientists are monitoring the spread of the Joro across Georgia and, eventually, the southeast. There are a lot of good articles and websites that share their findings, if you're inclined to learn more. You can also report Joro sightings to help researchers track their migration. Here is a list of a few helpful resources for my fellow inquisitive nature-freaks to check out:

 

Hopefully this post didn't freak too many of you out. Maybe it even helped some of you appreciate the beauty and complexity of these important creatures. Either way, with Halloween just days away, it seemed like a good time to highlight some awesome arachnids... ;)


HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

















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