Do Joro Spiders Bite? Palm-Sized Invasive Species Takes Hold in Georgia

A species of spider normally native to East Asia is increasingly making itself at home in the state of Georgia.

The Joro spider has a banana-like coloration, black with thick yellow markings, and grows to be about the size of an adult's palm. These things are similar to banana spiders, but unlike that species, the Joro spider also has distinctive red markings on its underbelly.

Part of a group of arachnids known as orb-weaving spiders, named for their talent of building intricate webs to catch prey, the Joro spider produces webs that are golden in color and higher off the ground than other spider's webs.

The big question that Georgia residents are asking on Google is: are these spiders venomous, and will they bite humans?

Byron Freeman, faculty member at the University of Georgia (UGA) Odum School of Ecology, reassured Georgia residents who may come across a Joro spider, saying that despite their impressive size, they don't prove much of a risk to humans.

"All spiders have venom that they use to subdue prey," he said in a UGA press release. "If you put your hand in front of one and try to make it bite you, it probably will. But they run if you disturb their web.

"They're trying to get out of the way."

So despite being venomous, the bite of a Joro spider should be harmless to humans, unless the person bitten is allergic to the venom.

The Joro spider was first spotted in Hoschton, Georgia, in 2013, when the species is believed to have arrived in a shipping container from Japan or China. Since then, the spider has firmly established a new habitat in Georgia.

Freeman has teamed with fellow UGA researcher Richard Hoebeke to investigate the Joro spider, and in 2015 the scientists successfully conducted a genetic identification of the new arrivals.

Their current work involves assessing the ecological impact the migration of the Joro spider could have in Georgia. The duo is asking will the Joro spider outcompete other orb-weaving spiders, and will they reduce insect populations through predation?

"We don't know what the impact is going to be," said Freeman, also the director of the Georgia Museum of Natural History. "Right now, we're trying to learn as much as we can about them."

Freeman and Hoebeke are also attempting to solve the mystery of how the male Joro spider attracts a mate.

Asked if Georgia residents should consider trying to eliminate the invasive arachnids, Freeman compares the effort to attempting to shovel sand at the beach.

"Should you try to get rid of them?" he said. "You can, but at this point, they're here to stay."

Joro Spider
A stock image of a Joro spider devouring its grasshopper prey. The japanese spider has made itself at home in the state of Georgia. David Hansche/Getty