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The Margin: Should you be worried about these ‘parachuting spiders’? Six things to know about them

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This spider may soon be parachuting into your neighborhood — literally.

The jorō, a type of arachnid native to Japan and other parts of Asia, could end up spreading throughout the Eastern U.S. seaboard, according to new research from the University of Georgia. The eight-legged creature, known for its yellow, red and dark-blue coloration, is sometimes referred to as the “parachuting spider” because it can easily be carried by the wind.

So, should we be concerned? Is the spread of the jorō this year’s version of the murder-hornet invasion? News reports indicate that some people may be in a panic, but we talked with research scientist Andy Davis of the University of Gerogia, who co-authored a recent study on the jorō (aka Trichonephila clavate — its scientific name), to get all the answers.

Why is the jorō suddenly here?

Actually, the jorō has been with us since 2014 and was first observed in Georgia — “somewhere between Athens and Atlanta,” says Davis. He thinks it was first likely transported to the U.S. accidentally in a shipping container — a stowaway of a different sort, in other words. Since then, it has been seen throughout the South — specifically, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina — and has even made its way to Oklahoma, according to Davis.

Can it really “parachute”?

In a word, yes. Davis explains it’s not the adult spiders that are making their way by air so much as the hatchlings. “Think of ‘Charlotte’s Web,’” he says, referring to the beloved children’s book that very much describes this movement pattern. And it’s not something unique to the jorō — it’s common among other types of spiders, Davis notes.

But the jorō can travel in other ways. Davis says the spider can easily hitch a ride, so to speak, by landing on a vehicle. That probably explains why a lot of them can be found along major highways, he adds.

Will it attack us?

Not likely. “They’re actually fairly timid. They are the wimps of the spider world,” says Davis. He describes it as a shy and not easily provoked creature. But even if it attacks — say, because it accidentally landed on you — Davis notes the bite would not be much more than a pinch (he hasn’t been bitten by one himself, but he’s heard a direct report from someone who has). “Their fangs are pretty small,” he says.

What makes it scary then?

Well, it is fairly big — Davis describes the jorō as being about the width of a soup can. And it has sizable webs — “like a meter across,” Davis says. Moreover, if you have a cluster of webs from more than one spider, it can look impenetrable. “It’s this massive sea of webs,” he explains.

What’s the likelihood it will keep spreading to other states?

Quite likely. The key, Davis explains, is that the jorō can withstand a deep freeze, so that means colder states could be potential territory. As he notes, “their range in Japan covers the entire country, north to south” — and that span is similar, latitude-wise, to the U.S.

But Davis thinks it may stick to the East Coast largely because it’s a spider that likes to be around trees and high vegetation. Which means the Great Plains states won’t be all that inviting. Still, he says if it attaches itself to any vehicles bound for the West, it could end up crossing the country.

Any other insects we should be worried about?

Davis says it’s too early to say if the jorō might wreak any havoc on the ecosystem. But he points to other insects — the emerald ash borer and the spotted lanternfly — that are currently doing serious damage to trees.

If you’re really concerned about spider bites, he says you should be avoiding two classic poisonous species, the black widow and the brown recluse. He says in particular of the latter, “That’s the one that can put you in the hospital.”

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