Giant ’parachuting’ Joro spiders: 11 facts about these scary critters, where they are, whether they pose a danger

By now, you’ve probably heard about those scary-looking spiders who can “fly” through the air when their giant webs are lifted by the wind and transported long distances.

The so-called Joro spiders — also known as “parachuting spiders” — have already been multiplying in several southern US states and scaring the bejeebies out of anyone with a fear of eight-legged critters.

Researchers believe the Joros will eventually make their way up north, which is why these giant crawlers have been getting so much attention of late. In case you never heard about these spiders, or didn’t study entomology in college, here are some facts about what they are, where they came from and where they might be heading.

What are Joro spiders?

This creepy-looking critter (which is a type of arthropod, so it’s technically not an insect) has the scientific name of Trichonephila clavata. It belongs to a group of spiders known as “orb weavers” because they can spin highly organized webs shaped like a wheel.

The males are small, but the females are much larger, with bright yellow markings. When fully grown, the female spider’s body can grow up to an inch long and its legs — which are black with yellow stripes — can span up to 3 to 4 inches. So stretched out, its diameter can be as large as a human palm.

“Adult male Joro spiders are much smaller and duller in color compared to females, with a body length of only 0.3 inches,” the Penn State Extension notes. The males are typically light brown, with lateral stripes that are dark brown.

joro

A female Joro spider stretched out in the palm of a hand. (Photo provided by Andy Davis, an assistant researcher at the University of Georgia)

Why are they called Joro spiders?

This spider got its name from a mythological creature — a Japanese spider demon known as Jorogumo.

Why are they called parachuting spiders?

The Joro spider is known for spinning large, intricate, wheel-shaped webs — some as wide as 10 feet — that can be lifted into the air by tastes of wind. Researchers say this allows these critters to travel to different locations miles away, make new colonies, multiply, then move again to other locations.

The process of the webs flying through the air is commonly known as ballooning, and sometimes called kiting.

Joro parachuting spiders

Researchers say the Joro spider, a large spider that spread through northern Georgia in 2021, could eventually make its way across much of the eastern United States. The spider, native to East Asia, is pictured here in Johns Creek, Ga., on Oct. 24, 2021.PA

Where did these spiders come from?

Experts say the Joro spider is native to China, India, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. Its first confirmed sighting in the United States was in northern Georgia in 2013 or 2014. Researchers believe the spider likely hitched a ride on a shipping container or a potted plant that originated from Asia.

Which states have these spiders now?

Experts say the Joro spider has been seen in large numbers in northern Georgia and has spread to small areas of North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee during recent years. One Joro spider was found in Oklahoma, but it didn’t get there by flying through the air on a web. He reportedly traveled in a car with a graduate student from the University of Georgia.

Will the Joro spiders invade the northern US?

Researchers from the University of Georgia released a study in February saying Joro spiders can tolerate cold temperatures, so they may eventually make their way up and down the eastern United States — including northern states.

Joro spider

A Joro spider spotted in Georgia.University of Georgia

When will the spiders get here?

No one knows for sure. Some experts say it likely will take several years for the Joro spiders to make their way up to Delaware, New Jersey or Pennsylvania through natural means and perhaps as long as five to 10 years to get up to New England. However, they note these spiders might be able to get to northern states much sooner than that if they hitch a ride on cars, trucks or shipping containers — or if they get carried by the winds of a strong storm.

Experts from the Penn State Extension say these spiders have been spreading only about 10 miles per year since they first arrived in Georgia. “At that rate, they may reach southeastern Pennsylvania in 35 years and northwestern Pennsylvania in 60 years” by natural means, the Penn State Extension says. “However, spiderlings (baby spiders) are capable of moving tens to hundreds of miles via ballooning, so a storm blowing in the right direction at the right time of year may move them in large jumps.”

The Penn State Extension also notes the spiders’ arrival time in northern states could be pushed up by “accidental human transport.”

Can Joro spiders survive harsh winters?

Experts say it’s not known for certain whether Joro spiders or their eggs can survive long, harsh winters. But the researchers in Georgia determined the Joro is more likely than similar types of spiders to survive brief periods of freezing temperatures.

They also said these spiders are able to create colonies and thrive in most areas of Japan, which “has a very similar climate to the US and is approximately the same latitude.”

“It looks like the Joros could probably survive throughout most of the Eastern Seaboard here, which is pretty sobering,” Andy Davis, one of the researchers, said.

Joro spider

A map from the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health shows counties where Joro spider sightings have been reported.

Can Joro spiders hurt people or animals?

Because they have tiny fangs and are not known to be aggressive, Joro spiders “are relatively harmless to people and pets, making their presence more of a nuisance than dangerous,” according to a report by the University of Georgia. “Joros won’t bite unless cornered, and their fangs are often not large enough to break human skin.”

Can Joro spiders harm trees or plants?

At this time, experts say there’s no evidence Joro spiders will cause damage to trees or plants. They seem to be merely an aesthetic annoyance because they spin huge webs that can stretch across landscaping, porches, lawn furniture and power lines.

What do Joro spiders eat?

This spider tends to eat various insects, including stink bugs, yellow jackets and mosquitoes, and they also feed on other types of arthropods, such as lady beetles (better known as ladybugs).

Michael Raupp, an entomologist from the University of Maryland, says Joro spiders will also feed on a pest that has been threatening grapevines, other agricultural crops and some types of trees in New Jersey and other eastern states during the past few years — the spotted lanternfly .

So that may be one good thing about these scary-looking spiders.

Thank you for relying on us to provide the local news you can trust. Please consider supporting NJ.com with a voluntary subscription.

Len Melisurgo may be reached at LMelisurgo@njadvancemedia.com.

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