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Four species of Australian tarantulas are among more than 1000 popular arachnid species being traded live for pets in an unmonitored network around the world.
A world-first study, published in Communications Biology, has found over 1200 species of spiders, scorpions and other arachnids are being traded as pets.

Of those 1200 species in trade, more than 100 had been recently described.

China had the largest number of animals caught for live trade export, followed by Brazil and Australia.

Lead author Dr Alice Hughes, from the University of Hong Kong, said two-thirds of individual spiders from all traded species were caught in the wild, which has a drastic impact on populations.

The Ornate tiger spider (Poecilotheria ornata) is an Endangered species which is endemic to Sri Lanka, and is popular in trade.
The Ornate tiger spider (Poecilotheria ornata) is an Endangered species which is endemic to Sri Lanka, and is popular in trade. (Kenneth Chin)

“We found for about 75 per cent of species they only live in one country and 95 per cent were in less than five countries,” Hughes told 9News.com.au, explaining a wild population is crucial for the future survival of many of these species.

“It means if you have species that only occur in a small number of countries going into trade, mainly from the wild, then we don’t know what impact that has on the wild population.

“You’re having a long-term impact on that species’ ability to survive into the future, (but) most people if they walk into a pet shop would assume that animal would be have bred in the vicinity, instead of coming from the wild.”

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Hughes recalled one instance in 2019 where a trader managed to extract location data from a colourful spider photo shared online.

The species Birupes simoroxigorum, also known as the Sarawak Blue-Legged Tarantula, was a new one – native to Malaysia.

Birupes simoroxigorum is a striking species which typifies the threats faced by arachnids.
Birupes simoroxigorum is a striking species which typifies the threats faced by arachnids. (Chien Lee)

“Someone managed to pull out the exact location from that photo, goes there, collects the spider and then imports it without any permits,” Hughes said.

“(They) take it home, describe the species and name it after their kids.

“It was a new species, and you can now buy them online for a couple hundred dollars.

“If you’re describing a new species in 2019 they’re most likely really site-endemic species. So it’s really easy for an entire population to be collected out for trade.”

While concerning, that is not technically illegal in most cases, unless there are country specific laws that prohibit trade.

Hughes added to date, the only arachnid species that have a CITES listing to regulate trade are tarantulas and the Emperor Scorpion.

The tarantulas make desirable pets as they are “long-lived”, with many making “whistling” sounds.

Australian tarantulas are often known as whistling or barking spiders.
Australian tarantulas are often known as whistling or barking spiders. (Reg Morrison / Australian Museum)

That’s why four species of Australian tarantulas – including the Queensland Whistling Tarantula and Brush Tarantula – made the list.

Those were the most sought-after Australian species, with Hughes noting there were just under 100 Australian arachnid species in trade in total.

Tracking who is buying these spiders and where they are going is hard, but Hughes suspects countries such as Belgium and Germany are up there.

“We know those countries are really big at buying animals,” Hughes said, saying a market is also “starting to grow” in countries like China.

“The Western market is huge for this kind of thing, but almost everywhere is buying them.

“We also found strange niche markets in places like Japan.”

While Australia has strict biosecurity laws governing what wildlife can be brought in Hughes has noticed a trend; what emerges in America as a popular pet makes it way to our shores.

“We didn’t find that many shops in Australia, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there,” Hughes said.

“They’re certainly there.”

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