The Black Market Is Crawling With Spiders, New Study Finds

More than 1,200 species of spiders, scorpions and other arachnids are involved in the wildlife trade

A black and orange tarantula
Up to 50 percent of the world's tarantula species are involved in wildlife trade, including 25 percent of species described since 2000. Joao Paulo Burini via Getty Images

A team of researchers has found that online spider sales are gaining popularity, and in light of this, the scientists are calling for greater attention and research focused on arachnid conservation. 

For the new study published in Communications Biology, the team analyzed listings of arachnids for sale online and on the LEMIS and CITES trade databases. They found that millions of individuals and more than 1,200 species of spiders, scorpions and other arachnids were involved in the wildlife trade between 2000 and 2021.

“Arachnids are being massively traded,” Alice Hughes, a conservation biologist at the University of Hong Kong and co-author on the paper, tells the New York Times’ Emily Anthes. “And it seems to be going completely under the radar.”

Sixty-seven percent of these arachnids are coming directly from the wild, per the study. 

“They’re just being removed willy-nilly in large numbers,” Anne Danielson-Francois, an arachnologist and behavioral ecologist at the University of Michigan-Dearborn who was not involved in the research, tells the Times. “They’re not this unlimited resource.”

The authors write that invertebrates are often smuggled because they are small and easy to conceal. Thermal cameras or x-ray technology used to detect vertebrates doesn’t work for most invertebrate species.

Arachnids have become popular pets, especially because they don’t require much space, per the study. But global assessments of wildlife trade have not included invertebrates, which the authors say hinders conservation efforts. 

“For the majority of invertebrate species, researchers lack precise information, despite potential declines, making further investigation an imperative,” write the authors. “Invertebrates are often neglected in conservation policy and practice due to biases in political, public and even scientific perceptions. As a consequence, their conservation is chronically underfunded.”

Of the over one million described invertebrate species on the planet, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed less than 1 percent, per the study. The IUCN Red List indicates which species are at risk of extinction. 

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)—an international agreement to regulate the animal and plant trades—covers only 2 percent of the species potentially traded, per the authors. 

Exactly how the wildlife trade is affecting these arachnid species is unknown, but the authors say the lack of global monitoring is concerning. Some traded individuals may even be undescribed species.

“There’s a lot of potential we are losing that we might never get back,” Sergio Henriques, a conservation biologist at the Indianapolis Zoo, tells the Daily Beast’s Miriam Fauzia. “Losing the species of a spider or many other animals is like burning the book in the library you haven’t yet read. The potential is immense and we don’t know what we’re losing. But I can assure you…we’re not benefitting.”

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