Credit: Courtesy of Brittany Barnes
How do Joro spiders impact the ecosystem? UGA researchers hope to find out — maybe with your help
LISTEN: Brittany Barnes, a researcher at the University of Georgia, talks about a Joro spider citizen science project.
It’s that time of year again, when residents of North Georgia start to notice Joro spiders in backyards, on mailboxes, between power lines, and just about anywhere else the invasive yellow and black spider can hang up its sticky golden web.
Brittany Barnes, a research professional in the Forest Entomology Lab at the University of Georgia, has been looking for and finding Joros since about April or May, when they’re small.
Not much is known about the Joro in North America. They are native to East Asia and are thought to have arrived in the United States on a shipping container roughly eight or nine years ago.
Barnes and other researchers at University of Georgia have been studying the Joro all summer to better understand how they may affect the larger environment. They’re looking for answers to questions such as: Are Joros edging out native spiders? Do Joros have any predators? What are Joros eating? Barnes invites members of the community to help answer some of these questions.
Barnes hopes a citizen science project that enlists members of the community will help them learn if native spiders are being edged out by Joros. Anecdotally, researchers have said they have observed fewer native spiders since the Joro arrived.
Barnes says the study asks community members to count the native spiders and to count the Joro spiders. Some will kill the Joros and others will not.
“And we just really want to see if people can have a little impact in their own little ecosystem,” said Barnes. “And if we could just show that there’s some kind of proof that native spiders come back or that the Joros are less because of what you can do on your own.”
Barnes said if people choose to kill Joros in their yard, they should not spray them with pesticides because that could harm native spiders. People should also be careful not to confuse native spiders such as the yellow garden spider with the Joro. A good marker is a bright red spot on the Joro’s lower abdomen.
Barnes brings up concerns about observations of pollinators in Joro webs. She said some researchers have positive perspectives that Joros are eating stink bugs and mosquitos and that’s a good thing. But Barnes is cautious about this.
“And I appreciate the positivity that some scientists are having with the stink bugs, mosquito population,” she said. "I appreciate that. I’m not saying that’s not true, but I think we need to be cautious about that. And that’s why we’re doing these studies — to actually be able to see.”
In addition to being interested in what Joros are eating, Barnes is also interest in what are eating Joros. She encourages the community to share their observations.
Throughout, Barnes spoke enthusiastically about the Joro spider and the people that have been drawn to the colorful spider that invokes both fear and awe.
“That’s also what I think is so cool about this spider is it’s bringing people together,” said Barnes, who also studies forest health in general. “I’ve never had people so interested in what I do.”
An earlier version of this story erroneously had a photo of a female Trichonephila clavipes, a native golden orb weaver species of spider commonly called the banana spider, instead of the invasive joro spider, Trichonephila clavata.