DrThe global trade in spiders and scorpions is booming: according to a current analysis, more than 1,200 species are traded, most of them uncontrolled and without any information about the stock of animals in nature. Two-thirds of the millions of animals traded are believed to be wild-caught, according to a report by an international research team in the journal Communications Biology. Better monitoring of the wildlife trade is needed to avoid negative impacts on natural stocks.
The researchers, led by Benjamin Marshall of Suranari University of Technology in Nakhon Ratchasima (Thailand), write that trade in wild animals is one of the main drivers of global species loss. For some species, the effects of trade have been well studied, but invertebrates such as spiders, scorpions, and other spiders are often overlooked.
Very few terrestrial invertebrates are registered with the Washington Convention for the Conservation of Endangered Species (Cites), which regulates trade in wild animals and endangered plant species. Of the 52,060 species of spiders described, only 39 are, and of the 2,348 species of scorpions, researchers continue to write. Even with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles the Red List, only a small portion of the species are assessed in relation to their vulnerability.
The origin of the animals is not clear
On the other hand, exotic spiders are very popular for keeping terrariums. Because many species reproduce relatively slowly, they are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of uncontrolled and unsustainable trade.
To get a better understanding of the extent of the problem, the scientists used an internet search to see which species were for sale online. They also recorded species that appeared in official sources related to the wildlife trade, on the one hand in the Cites data and on the other in the Law Enforcement Administration System (Lemis) – a US database in which all wildlife imports are recorded.
In total, they found 1,264 traded species in their sources, 993 of which (79 percent) were found exclusively online rather than in commercial databases. The possibility of mailing samples from young and old, the researchers wrote, may fuel online commerce.
Spiders appeared most frequently in searches with 903 species, followed by scorpions with 350 and scorpions with 11. Half of all known species of the tarantula group were traded.
Rarely has any of the traded species appeared in the IUCN Red List category – 99.34 percent of all spider species and 99.9 percent of scorpion species have not been assessed for vulnerability.
Only scientists can make limited statements about the origin of spiders because the corresponding information on Internet platforms is not required and is not very reliable. They took some information from Lemis’ data on US imports. According to this, on average 70 percent of imported animals come from wild catch.
Among the most traded animals are emperor scorpions, of which 1 million specimens were imported during the study period, 77 percent of the wild catch. Of the tarantulas in the genus Gramostola, which includes the popular Chilean red tarantula, 600,000 individuals were imported, 89 percent of the wild catch. Species traded under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species are often reported as “imports from captive-bred individuals”.
Trade restrictions can be circumvented
Another surprising feature: many of the imports recorded with Lemis came from countries where the animals in question did not belong. Nearly half of all species allegedly imported from Chile are not known to exist there. This either indicates a lack of knowledge about the distribution of individual species – or the concealment of their origin in order to get around stricter trade restrictions in individual countries.
In general, there are many gaps in knowledge that make trade difficult to control and thus facilitate the protection of natural stocks, the researchers concluded. Many species have not yet been scientifically described, and their habitat and distribution are often unknown.
In addition, animals are often traded under their trivial names, and individual species can often be distinguished only by experts. If the species is newly described—in the past 20 years or so, there have been over 17,000 spiders—they often find their way to the market within a short time.
Scientists cite Birupes simoroxigorum as an example: when the first images of a species of bright blue-legged tarantulas, which had not yet been described at that time, they were used to track animals living in Borneo. It was illegally exported and labeled and is now in great demand in the trade – although almost nothing is known about its natural way of life.