Researchers from the University of Georgia and Georgia Museum of Natural History have for the first time found a creature known as the East Asian Joro spider or Asian fortune-teller spider in North America, according to a new study appearing in the journal PeerJ.
In addition to its unique nickname, the Joro spider (Nephila clavata) is best known for producing strong golden silk, according to National Geographic. It is a member of a group of spiders known as golden orb-web weavers found in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world.
Thanks a lot, Asia!
One member of this arachnid group, the banana spider, is native to the southeastern US, but the Joro spider is normally found only in Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan. Scientists believe that it likely found its way to the US on shipping vessels, and that it may have been here for years.
The Joro spider is similar in size to the banana spider but it has a distinctive color scheme, which includes black legs with yellow-orange stripes and a bright yellow body with bluish-green stripes on its back and red markings on its underside. It was originally discovered by a Georgia resident by the name of Wesley Huffmaster, who brought it to the attention of scientists at UGA.
Knocking socks off
“It kind of knocked my socks off when I saw it,” said E. Richard Hoebeke, an entomologist at the Georgia Museum of Natural History who identified the spider as the Nephila clavata based on its size, physical features, and markings. “It didn’t look like anything we’ve seen among the native spider fauna.”
In Japanese mythology, the Joro spider is believed to be a deceptive shape-shifter that preys on handsome young men, Nat Geo said. It’s Japanese name, jorō-gumo, translates to either “binding bride” or “whore spider,” while its Korean name, mudang gumi, means “fortune-teller” spider. It is not harmful to humans in real life, however, the website explained.
Hoebeke and Byron J. Freeman, director of the Georgia museum and an instructor at the UGA Odum School of Ecology, visited several locations where the spiders had been sited and obtained DNA from two of them. They compared that genetic information to that of Joro spiders found in the GenBank database of publically available DNA sequences, and confirmed that the creatures were Nephila clavata and that they were closely related to individuals in Japan and China.
Thus far, Hoebeke said that there is “no indication” that the Joro spider will be a “disruptive or economically costly” invasive species, but added that this was one of the reasons that they want to conduct additional research on the arachnid. “What’s the extent of its distribution in the South and beyond? How does it interact with native spiders – might it actually displace some of them, like the big garden spiders? Those are some of the questions we want to explore.”
The majority of the reported sightings of took place near the Braselton and Hoschton areas of Geogia, but Hoebeke and Freeman believe that the spider is likely living in other parts of the US – including the north, since it can withstand cold weather. They are asking anyone who spots one of the creatures to contact Hoebeke at [email protected] with a photograph.