An Unconventional Pet for this Elementary Class
Let us introduce you to the newest class pet on campus. While he is not the most conventional pet, the students in Steff & Neda’s 2-3 class will assure you he is still quite lovable. Paideia has certainly had many wacky class pets over the years - turtles, tortoises, iguanas, bunnies… but this arachnid is unlike the rest. He didn’t come from a pet store or a shelter. He wasn’t a gift from a recent graduate headed off to college. Steff & Neda didn’t pick him out. It was more of a “we didn’t choose him, he chose us” adoption story.
“He just appeared one day,” Neda recounts. “We made a choice at that moment. We could take him down or we could watch. We chose to watch.” While neither Steff, nor Neda identify as an arachnophile, they saw the appearance of this tiny black and gold joro spider as a teaching opportunity. Their class began researching their new friend - where did he come from? What does he eat? Is he dangerous?
They turned to recent research from the University of Georgia’s Odom School of Ecology for answers. Multiple studies have come out of the University this summer, providing a clearer picture of the joros’ personalities, as well as their perceived danger to our ecosystem.
As students in Steff & Neda’s class shared, joros are an invasive species of spider from Japan. In 2021,the joro spider populations in Georgia increased causing panic and misinformation to spread about the crawly creature, most notably that any joro spider should be eradicated. As more research has been conducted, it has been proven that joro spiders not only are non-harmful to humans, but also to the environment. In fact, the presence of joro spiders can be beneficial for the environment and the economy, as they eat harmful invasive species that other spiders won’t. A favorite snack of joro spiders are stink bugs which are capable of decimating entire crops of corn, peppers, tomatoes, peaches and apples.
“He’s our friend. He hasn’t harmed us, so we don’t have to harm him,” said one student of the joro, affectionately known as Zoro. While joro spiders are venomous, they are not dangerous. The class gasped with excitement and raised their hands when asked ‘why?’ “Because their fangs are too tiny,” burst out one student. Neda affirmed, “Their fangs are too tiny to penetrate the skin, therefore they can’t harm people or other animals.” They aren’t a threat to native spiders either. The joro is a shy spider and would prefer not to move when disturbed by other spiders. They are incredibly still.
“Joro spiders have spread all the way up from Florida all the way to Maine,” exclaims one student. Joro spiders reproduce at such a fast rate, it is difficult to control them as they climb their way up the East coast. Joro spiders aren’t going away, so, let’s get to know more about our new neighbor.
“They can grow as big as an adult’s palm,” shares one student. “They stay still to save their energy,” says another. Joro spiders conserve their energy, so they can speedily capture their meals. “When they see a fly really close they scramble to the fly,” explains a student. “Scramble is a great word,” laughs Steff. The student continues, “they wrap it up, and put it back in their web, so they can suck up its guts later.” A little gross, but a spider’s got to eat, too!
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about our new friend, Zoro, is the dazzling golden web he weaves. “Initially, it had one layer of web, but now it's multi-dimensional. There are many facets to the web. It goes in many different directions,” remarks Neda. The web is so beautifully crafted, even resident arachnophobe Tom Taylor, would take a moment to appreciate the intricacy and complexity of our natural world.
Our students remind us through their curiosity, excitement and gentleness, that the beauty of the natural world is all around us. Even the things we may fear, can be beautiful. Sustainability Coordinator, Korri Ellis contributed that “learning to cohabitate with species, even ones that may scare us, is one important way that we take care of the earth.” The more we understand our world, even a creature as small as the joro, the more we appreciate it.