Giant Venomous Flying Spiders Could Be Moving to Western Mass

Giant Venomous Flying Spiders Could Be Moving to Western Mass

Giant Venomous Flying Spiders Could Be Moving to Western Mass

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) – The East Coast is abuzz with concerns about the Joro spider, a large, venomous arachnid that has been making its way across the region. But should residents of Western Massachusetts be worried about these flying spiders?

Despite the alarming headlines, experts assure us there’s no need for panic. Bob Russell, an entomologist with American Pest Solutions, has been studying the Joro spider, which has been in the United States for nearly a decade, primarily in southern states like Georgia and Florida.

Russell explains that the Joro spider, while large and colorful, poses little threat to humans. “They don’t have the mouthparts necessary to pierce human skin,” he says. “There’s a 99% chance that no one will ever be affected by their venom.”

Contrary to some reports, these spiders can’t actually fly. Instead, they use a technique called ballooning, where they spin small webs that catch air currents, allowing them to drift to new locations. This is a common behavior among many spider species.

Russell notes that while we might see Joro spiders in Western Massachusetts in the coming years due to southern wind patterns, there’s no reason to be afraid. “They are not a threat to humans,” he reiterates.

David Nelsen, a biology professor at Southern Adventist University, echoes this sentiment. He believes the public’s fascination with the “weird and fantastic” often leads to unnecessary hysteria. “This is one of those things that checks all the boxes for public fear,” he says.

Scientists are more concerned about invasive species that can harm crops and trees, exacerbated by global trade and climate change. Hannah Burrack, an entomology professor at Michigan State University, points out that while the Joro spider is getting a lot of attention, it poses little risk to humans. “Introduced pests like fruit flies and tree borers are more damaging,” she says.

The Joro spider, an orb-weaver native to East Asia, is known for its bright yellow and black coloring and can grow up to three inches long. However, they are hard to spot early in their life cycle, being only the size of a grain of rice. Their webs, often the size of a softball, can be seen on porches or blanketing grass.

David Coyle, an assistant professor at Clemson University, has been studying the Joro spider’s range. He notes that their central population is in Atlanta, with expansions into the Carolinas and southeastern Tennessee. A satellite population has also been established in Baltimore over the past two years.

As for when they might become more prevalent in the Northeast, Coyle says it’s uncertain. “It could be this year, or it might take a decade,” he says. “They won’t get far in a single year; it will be a series of incremental steps.”

Young Joro spiders use ballooning to travel long distances, but fully-grown spiders do not fly. They primarily eat insects that land in their webs, which could mean competition with native spiders for food. However, their presence might also benefit native bird species, as observed by Andy Davis, a research scientist at the University of Georgia.

While some hope that Joro spiders could help control invasive species like the spotted lanternfly, Coyle is skeptical. “They might eat a few, but they won’t significantly impact the population,” he says.

In terms of danger to humans, Joro spiders have venom like all spiders, but it’s not deadly or medically significant. At worst, a bite might cause itching or an allergic reaction. “They tend to stay out of humans’ way,” Nelsen says.

The real concern, according to scientists, is the broader issue of invasive species that threaten natural resources. “This is just one more example of mankind’s influence on the environment,” Davis says.

So, while the idea of giant, venomous flying spiders might sound terrifying, experts assure us that the Joro spider is not a threat to humans. Instead, the focus should be on managing the broader ecological impacts of invasive species.

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