I know that you are going to be elated to learn that a new spider has taken up residence in Georgia. This large colorful arachnid is the joro spider and is native to China, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.
According to University of Georgia biologists, that spider was initially located in Hochston, Georgia in 1983. The current range of the joro spider in the Peach State includes Hall, Jackson, Gwinnett, and Madison Counties in Georgia’s northeast quadrant. The spider has also turned up in Greenville, South Carolina.
While nobody knows how it made its way to the United States, Richard Hoebeke, curator of the University of Georgia’s Museum of Natural History believes that the showy spiders probably hitched a ride to Georgia on shipping crates transported on container ships from ports in Japan and China.
The joro spider is not a spider that lurks in the dark corners of old barns or haunted houses. While in has been found living in plain sight in woodlands; it also seems to prefer to live near humans. The first indication that joro spiders are living nearby is often the appearance of a large orb-shaped web. When the light catches these webs just right, they take on a golden sheen.
The female joro spider has a body that measures 0.68-0.98 inches in length. In addition, when spread out, its eight legs span anywhere from three to four inches.
Many folks are afraid a spider will bite them. Fortunately, the joro spider is not aggressive. However, for some unknown reason if a joro spider bites you, unless you are highly allegoric to its venom, the bite will give about the same amount of discomfort as a bee sting.
Based on how far the joro spider has expanded its range in well less than a decade, it appears it will continue its range expansion unabated. Meanwhile, the UGA biologists working at the Museum of Natural History are requesting our help in plotting the spider’s marc across the state.
With that in mind, if you spot what you believe to be a joro spider, take a picture of it, and send it to Richard Hoebeke at email@example.com along with the date and location of your sighting.
When most Georgia homeowners fuss about the problems caused by wild animals making a nuisance around their home they are typically referring to the likes of white-tailed deer, opossums, raccoons, and eastern chipmunks. However, some of us also have to contend with an animal that takes being a nuisance to a new level. The animal I am talking about is the black bear.
Some 4,100 black bears live in the Peach State. Most of these large animals never have a conflict with humans. However, as the state’s black bear population grows, and humans continue to convert bear habitat into residential areas, it is highly likely that human-bear encounters will increase. However, when a bear destroys a valuable bird feeder, explores a front porch, or scatters trash across a yard people often become frightened and are left wondering what can be done to ensure such events will cease.
According to Adam Hammond, Georgia’s state bear biologist, “Avoiding problems with bears is usually simple, though it may not always be convenient.”
In an effort to assist homeowners deal with bear problems, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division and 14 other state wildlife agencies have developed an educational program named BearWise. Below you will find six BearWise recommendations that will help you safely deal with bears in your yard.
- Never feed or approach a bear.
- Secure food, garbage, and recycling. Since bears are attracted to food odors, don’t store garbage or other food-related items outside.
- Remove bird feeders when bears are active in your area.
- Never leave pet food outdoors.
- Thoroughly clean outdoor grills after they have been used. In addition, store grills insecure locations.
- If you happen to see a bear close by, notify your neighbors. If you and your neighbors take preventative measures, bears will not be able to find food and will look elsewhere for a free meal.
One the other hand, if you and your neighbors do not take preventative measures to discourage bears, chances are bear problems will become more frequent. This, in turn, can lead to increased property damage and potentially dangerous encounters between humans, pets, and bears.
More detailed information can be obtained by visiting www.bearwise.org
I suspect that most folks that enjoy birding would like to make the trek to Texas’ High Island to witness the spring songbird migration. If you catch conditions just right, in a single day, you can get up close and personal to 30 species of warblers and literally scores of vireos tanagers and other birds. While this small island is the one of the very best places to see spring migrations, if you have the right habitat, you can see a kaleidoscope of songbirds from March into May pass through your own yard.
As migratory songbirds move northward, they make a number of stops before they reach their breeding grounds. These bits of critical habitat are referred to as stopover areas. Songbirds rest and refuel at these locations. Backyards offering the birds the proper food, water, and cover can serve as stopover sites.
The vast majority of migratory songbirds rarely visit feeders stocked with seeds and suet. However, can you attract them if you offer them the foods that will help fuel their spring migration flights. By far, the most important foods eaten by spring migrants are insects. However, the bulk of the insects consumed by the birds are the larvae of moths and butterflies (commonly referred to as caterpillars).
Most of these caterpillars feed on tree leaves. Therefore, if one or more of the trees that serve as hosts for moths and butterflies is growing in your yard, the better are your chances of attracting spring migrants.
When it comes to hosting moths and butterflies not all trees are created equal. The worst trees are introduced ornamentals. Some of these trees do not host any moths and butterflies. Studies have shown ornamentals produce 35 times less caterpillar biomass than native trees.
Here is a short list of some of the native trees that host the most species of moths and butterflies. The numbers of species of moths and butterflies that each tree hosts are found in parentheses. This list was developed by Dr. Doug Tallamy.
In Georgia, oaks (557) serve as host plants for more butterflies and moths than any other group of trees. Other important hosts to lepidopterans are cherries (456), willows (455), birches (411), poplars (367) crabapples (308), maples (297), alders (255), hickories (235), elms (215), pines (201), hawthorns (168), beeches (127), dogwoods (118), and sweetgum (35).
Should you find that none of these trees are in your yard, if you want to have your yard serve as a spring songbird stopover site, consider planting one or more trees found on this list. The small investment in time and labor this requires will pay huge dividends for decades to come.
If you already have one or more of the caterpillar producers growing in your yard, from now into May, periodically scan the tree foliage for migrants. How long the migrants stay is largely dependent on the amount of food they find. If your trees don’t harbor many caterpillars, migrants might stay and feed for only a day. Conversely, if caterpillars are abundant, migrants may linger for three or more days before moving on.
If you are lucky, one morning you may walk outside and see your trees alive with a dozen or more warblers gleaning insects for your trees’ foliage. While you might see far more species at High Island, the fact that you spotted these birds in your yard will make the experience extra special.
There are many superstitions surrounding Halloween. Quite a few of these folktales deal with the mistaken belief that spiders consort with witches, ghosts, and goblins. Let’s look at one of these tall tales.
One of the stories I have heard is that spiders are more abundant around Halloween because they gather with witches and unsavory characters this bizarre holiday. The truth of the matter is that chances are people are more likely to see more spiders around Halloween than they might during the spring, summer, and winter. However, this has nothing to do with Halloween. Instead, there is a scientific basis for spiders being more abundant in the fall of the year. Halloween just happens to celebrated during this season.
There are two reasons why we are more apt to see spiders in the fall. First, this is the mating season for a vast number of spiders. Consequently, spiders are more prone to be out and about then looking for mates. This increases the likelihood we will encounter them.
Another reason is when spiders emerge from eggs in spring they are extremely small; this makes them difficult to find. Throughout the spring and summer, they continue to increase in size. Once they reach maturity by fall, it is much easier for us to spot them. This gives us the false impression that they are actually more abundant.
I lament the fact that so many people cringe whenever they see a spider. As a result, untold numbers of spiders are killed because we fear them. Their perceived association with Halloween helps perpetuate our animosity toward these beneficial invertebrates. In truth, the vast majority of the 35,000 species of spiders found around the world pose no threat to humans. In contrast, they are important predators that help control insects and other invertebrates that humankind considers detrimental.
Unfortunately, folktales link many of our backyard wildlife neighbors such as owls, toads, snakes, and bats to Halloween. That being the case, with Halloween only a few weeks away, there is no better time to dispel one of the tall tales regarding one of these unfortunate animals — the toad.
The animals associated with Halloween have a number of things in common. For example, many are creatures of the night. This is a time when folktales tell us these animals consort with witches and goblins. Such associations are enough to malign any animal. As such, it is not surprising that people fear the toad. Although we are not afraid toads will bite us, many people honestly believe that, if you touch a toad, you will get warts. Apparently, toads also infect witches with warts as they are often depicted with warts on their noses. Let’s do a fact check and see if this bit of folklore is actually true.
The origin of this belief was long ago lost in the mists of history. However, it is widely believed this notion originated from the fact that the skins of toads are covered with lots of oddly shaped warts. Since medical knowledge was rudimentary at that time in history, this conclusion was not disputed and took on a life of its own. Who among us has not heard our father or mother tell us not to pick up that toad, because will give your warts?
The truth of the matter is warts are caused by something called a human papillion virus. There are 150 or so viruses of this type. They most often infect humans through a cut or scratch. It has been suggested that one of the reasons children seem to develop warts more than adults is their roughhousing make them more prone to get scratches and cuts. In addition, the fact that their immune systems have not yet fully developed makes them more susceptible to many infections like warts.
I can personally attest to the fact that toads do not cause warts. When my granddaughter was a youngster, I often accompanied her on forays into the dark to see how many toads she could capture in a single night. On a good night, she might catch a dozen or more of the “warty” critters. After examining and photographing them, she released them where they were captured. During these unforgettable adventures, she never developed any warts. However, I was left with a wealth of priceless memories.
I hope that I have dispelled this folktale. Unfortunately, I suspect that the belief that toads can infect us with warts will be around for many Halloweens to come.
Currently throughout much of the state, there are few, if any, signs that fall is ready to blanket Georgia with a quilt of reds, oranges, and yellows. However, those of us that have strawberry bush (Euonymus americana) growing in their backyards have been granted a preview of the colorful show yet to come.
The strawberry bush is not a plant you would ever suspect as standing out among scores of other native shrubs that grow across the state. It is small (4-8 feet tall), often grows under the canopy of larger hardwood trees, or among a myriad of brushy plants along forest edges or in recently harvested timber tracts. However, from late summer into fall it is transformed into a shrub of unparalleled beauty.
At that of the year the plant’s seed capsules (arils), which are covered with conical warts, resemble green strawberries, turn pink and then bright red. Thereafter the leathery capsules magically open and display shiny red berries that appear suspended on thin threads. Once you cast your eyes on them for the first time, I am sure you will agree they possess unrivaled beauty.
Strawberry bush is also referred to as spindletree. It seems that the plant’s hard wood was once used to make spindles for spinning wheels. If you will recall, in the popular children’s story of Sleeping beauty, the fair maiden fell asleep when she pricked her finger on a sharp spindle. It is believed this relates to the folktale that claims that the wood of the strawberry bush is poisonous and, if a person ingests the wood; he or she will fall into a coma. While I cannot attest that eating the wood would cause a person to end up in a coma, I do know that the plant is considered poisonous to humans.
Such is not the case with birds and mammals. In fact, it is an ice cream-food for white-tailed deer. Whitetails simply cannot get enough of it. In fact, one reason strawberry bush is not found in many woodlands is it has been heavily browsed by deer. It is interesting to note wildlife biologists often use the prevalence of strawberry bush as an indicator of the size of a deer herd.
Although, the berries are eaten by songbirds quail and even wild turkeys, strawberry bush rarely shows up in food habit studies. I believe this is because, in most places, very few berries are produced compared to other plants such as pokeberries, and American beautyberries.
Two things I also like about strawberry bush are that its leaves are aromatic and turn orange in the fall.
If your garden is not plagued by white-tailed deer, strawberry bush would be a great addition on your landscape. It is a Georgia native that is attractive and provides food for wildlife too.
Once you establish it, you will become one of the few people that can enjoy this harbinger of autumn long before the main show begins.
Whenever you see a box turtle attempting to cross a busy highway, I am sure you cannot help but be concerned the reptile can safely complete its perilous journey. Indeed, with traffic volume increasing every year, box turtle treks across the black asphalt ribbons that crisscross the state are becoming ever more dangerous. Not wanting to see a box turtle struck by a vehicle, whenever possible, drivers often stop and try to help turtle avoid being crushed by a car or truck. Once a turtle is retrieved, a driver must decide where to place it in order to keep it out of harm’s way.
I have asked two herpetologists what they would recommend in this situation. Both agreed it is best to place the turtle on the side of the road it was headed. While there is always a chance the turtle will turn around and walk back onto the highway, in most instances, this is not the case.
The experts also stressed it is not a good idea to move a turtle a mile or two down the road to a place that appears to be safer. When released some distance from its home range, box turtles often find it difficult to find enough food to survive. This can result in the turtles wandering about.
If you decide to come to the aid of a box turtle trying to plod across a busy highway, please make sure you have a safe place to pull off the road. In addition, do not walk out into the highway to retrieve a box turtle until you are absolutely certain you can do so well before a oncoming vehicle reaches you.
The majority of the birdbaths placed in Georgia backyards are intended to be used by birds. However, the truth of the matter is many other animals visit them. I think it would be safe to say the “other” animal most often seen at our feeders is the gray squirrel. With that in mind, have you ever wondered how much water a gray squirrel consumes in a day?
It seems that, a gray squirrel needs two to three tablespoons of water per day, however, a number of factors affect the amount of water a squirrel drinks. For example, female gray squirrels nursing young require more water than squirrels not producing milk for their young.
It is interesting to note that, on the average, a gray squirrel drinks twice per day.