Endangered list irks Tarantula fans
Worry federal listing will make breeding difficult
Tarantula collectors have no fear when it comes to their favorite large, hairy pets, but U.S. breeders are scared to death of a Fish and Wildlife Service proposal that would list the species as endangered.
Citing threats from deforestation, habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change, the agency proposed last week giving protection to five species native to Sri Lanka — known as the Poecilotheria spiders — under the Endangered Species Act.
The petition to list the tarantulas comes after a six-year campaign by WildEarth Guardians, which first submitted in 2010 a petition calling for federal protection for 11 species, including six found in India.
“We’re thrilled that these beautiful spiders, imperiled by human greed, are one step closer to protection,” said Taylor Jones, the endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “We hope this listing encourages conservation and raises awareness about the plight of these species in the wild and the perils of the exotic pet trade.”
But U.S. collectors have raised an alarm about such a listing, saying that the added layer of regulation actually could reduce the species’ numbers by discouraging tarantula breeding.
Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Vanessa Kauffman said listing the tarantulas would allow the agency to require permits for U.S. citizens seeking to import the spiders or buy or sell them across state lines.
“We can’t enforce this in other countries, but we can enforce this with people who try to bring them [tarantulas] into the United States,” said Ms. Kauffman.
The American Tarantula Society urged its members to submit comments by the Feb. 13 deadline providing “clear, concise and professional commentary regarding the animals we keep and our efforts in the captive-bred hobby.”
“Should the ESA listing occur, these 5 species will be illegal to transport across state lines, likely ensuring that legal propagation of captive-bred populations will grind to a standstill,” said the society.
The U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers said the agency needs to take into account the number of domestically bred tarantulas as well as the potential impact of the permitting requirements.
“For species listed as endangered, both parties of the transaction must have expensive and very difficult to obtain captive-bred wildlife permits,” said the association. “This permit allows sales within the U.S. of U.S. captive-bred animals. Permit applications may take up to a year for approval or denial.”
In its proposed Federal Register listing, the agency acknowledged that captive-bred tarantulas “appear to supply the majority of the current legal trade in these species, at least in the United States,” and that the numbers of those still being captured in the wild is unknown.
At the same time, “even small amounts of collection of species with small populations can have a negative impact on the species,” said the agency.
“Given that evidence indicates that low levels of collection of at least some of these species from the wild continues to occur, it is likely that collection for trade is exacerbating population effects of other factors negatively impacting these species, such as habitat loss and degradation, and stochastic processes,” said the proposal.
With their striking patterns and colors, the Sri Lanka tarantulas are prized within the captive-pet trade. Most tarantulas in the United States are bred domestically, but some are still smuggled out of Sri Lanka despite laws against commercial collection.
Nocturnal, solitary and sedentary, tarantulas live concealed in wooded burrows and tree crevices in tropical and subtropical climates. The spiders that do encounter humans are typically males searching for females or those in search of prey.
The tarantulas may be too creepy for their own good. In Sri Lanka, locals who accidentally run across the spiders tend to react without factoring in their dwindling numbers or propensity to hide from humans.
“Poecilotheria spiders are feared by humans in Sri Lanka and, as a result, are usually killed when encountered,” said the agency.
How often does that happen? It’s impossible to know for certain.
“We are not aware of any information on the number of individuals of the petitioned species that are intentionally killed by people,” the proposal said. “However, in areas where these species occur, higher human densities are likely to result in higher human contact with these species and, consequently, higher numbers of spiders killed.”
The Sri Lankan tarantulas are also poisonous, using their venom to paralyze their prey, and bites to humans are painful but not life-threatening.
“They are known for their very fast movements and potent venom that, in humans, typically causes extended muscle cramps and severe pain,” said the proposal.
The service currently lists 1,268 foreign wildlife and plant species under the Endangered Species Act, along with 8,553 domestic species. Another 20 foreign species were recommended as candidates for listing by the agency in an Oct. 17 proposal.
Tarantulas are the heaviest and hairiest spiders on the planet. U.S. breeders of these spiders are fretting over a petition to list five species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, fearing that the move would actually hurt the population.