The online spider market is huge and teeming with problems

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Stewart says public interest in spiders and scorpions has skyrocketed as people realize they are actually low-maintenance pets that don’t need to be walked three times per day and can be kept in apartments or small houses without a backyard. “They are fascinating creatures and they are beautiful,” says Stewart, who has been collecting them for 20 years.

That said, he agrees that the international trade in spiders can be a problem as unethical collectors can decimate wild populations. “We don’t just like tarantulas because they look cool,” Stewart says. “We’re more fascinated by them and want to preserve them in the wild, so you don’t want to buy a wild tarantula. Now that almost makes you an outcast because you’re part of the problem.

Stewart doesn’t breed tarantulas himself – he says he buys them from reputable dealers – but he says it’s just a lot cheaper to breed them than to import them from the wild. “Importing tarantulas is a very expensive and time-consuming process,” says Stewart. “There are a lot of paperwork you have to go through. You must obtain permits from the US Department of Agriculture and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Even collectors have to prove that these are ethically sourced and taken from the wild with the proper permits just to have them imported into the country. Stewart advises people to avoid dealers who cannot identify the source of their arachnids and to seek dealers on newsgroups such as Arachnoboards.

Yet without any type of international certification program, it can be difficult for a tarantula hobbyist to truly know the origin of the creature – is the seller a legal breeder here in the United States or a collector who has it? plucked from its nest in a rainforest and smuggled it out of the country? In 2019, just weeks after Malaysian scientists discovered a new species of tarantula, later named Birupes simoroxigoruma trio of Polish collectors went on an expedition and sent several of them to the UK without proper permissions, according to a newspaper report Science. Members of this same rare species, also known as the neon blue-legged tarantula, are currently being sold online in the United States. Although no U.S. law prohibits the purchase of this particular species, international and U.S. laws protect some Sri Lankan tarantulas, making it illegal to import them into the United States or transfer them across state lines unless whether they’re gifted for a zoo or a university, according to Stewart.

Overall, most regulations are the responsibility of suppliers, not customers. Each country requires its own permits to collect wild animals. And in the United States, federal permits are required to import tarantulas and other exotic pets, but not to buy them.

Currently, each state also has its own laws governing the ownership of exotic pets, although new legislation passed by the House of Representatives prohibits the sale of non-native exotic pets across state lines. The bill comes in the form of amendments to the Lacey Anti-Wildlife Trafficking Act and is currently before a Senate committee. The proposal is designed to crack down on invasive species entering the United States, but some veterinary groups say the legislation will make it harder for exotic pet owners to seek veterinary care.

Yet Sérgio Henriques, invertebrate conservation coordinator at the Indianapolis Zoo, says even legal sales are driving demand for colorful and rare spiders and scorpions, putting increasing pressure on wild populations. Even legitimate breeders often buy wild specimens to boost the genetic diversity of their captive stock.

“I would just invite people who love and care for these animals to find out how these species actually do in the wild,” says Henriques, who also co-chairs the IUCN’s Spider and Scorpion Specialist Group. “If you love these animals, let them thrive in the wild. And let’s not be in a position where they’re available now for you, but they’ll be gone for the next generation.

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