For Immediate Release, August 26, 2019

Contact:

Tanya Sanerib, +1 (206) 379-7363, tsanerib@biologicaldiversity.org (in Geneva)
Sarah Uhlemann, +1 (206) 327-2344, suhlemann@biologicaldiversity.org

Beautiful Ornamental Tarantulas Win Global Protections From Pet Trade

15 Species to Get Safeguards Under CITES Treaty

Geneva, Switzerland— More than a dozen kinds of tarantulas native to Sri Lanka and India will get stronger trade protections under an international treaty, with member countries voting to address over-collection in the wild and skyrocketing demand in the pet industry. The United States imports thousands of these tarantulas every year.

Today’s decision was reached at the 18th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a treaty ratified by 183 nations. It adds all 15 species in the Poecilotheria genus to the treaty’s “Appendix II,” which means trade may continue but will be regulated through a permit system, ensuring that it is sustainable and fully monitored.

“These tarantulas are creeping toward extinction, so global safeguards are crucial,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This decision will ensure that these fuzzy-legged majesties have some protection from the international pet trade and U.S. demand.”

The 15 tarantula species are known for their large size and striking colors of white, yellow or even blue, making them popular in the international pet trade. The tarantulas are unique because they live in trees instead of ground burrows and are social as compared to other tarantula species. Deforestation is the tarantulas’ main threat, but a growing pet trade contributes to their decline.

The United States imported about 2,700 Poecilotheria tarantulas between 1995 and 1999, but that number topped 16,500 between 2013 and 2017. From 2006 to 2017, nearly 23,000 were imported into the United States, though the number is likely higher since imports are generally underreported and often not properly identified.

Most tarantulas traded in the United States are reportedly captive-bred, but several of the ornamental tarantulas are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity, including the ivory-billed ornamental tarantula, yellow-backed ornamental tarantula and reddish parachute spider.

In May scientists with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) issued assessments predicting the loss of one million species in the next few decades, if drastic changes are not made. Scientists identified overexploitation — including trade — as the second-greatest driver of species extinction.

“With international scientists warning we’re suffering the sixth global extinction, this was the least CITES could do for these unique and brightly colored creatures,” Uhlemann said. “But looking ahead, CITES is going to need to act swiftly to curb exploitation of wildlife the world over.”

The United States was a strong proponent of today’s international protections, along with its co-proponent, Sri Lanka. While today’s decision still technically requires a final vote in coming days, the decision is very unlikely to change.

Background

Like their relatives in the Americas, Poecilotheria seem to have a complex and mutualistic relationship with a certain kind of tiny frog, acting as a “bodyguard” against the frogs’ predators while the frogs eat the ants drawn to the tarantulas’ leftovers that are also major predators of tarantula eggs. Scientists have observed tarantulas attacking geckos trying to eat the eggs of frogs the spiders were sharing their tree holes with.

Most tarantulas do not interact with other spiders, but Poecilotheria often share their retreat with their spiderlings, and the young sometimes remain on the same tree to breed. They are also unique among most tarantulas because they are arboreal, living in crevices and holes of trees, and studies indicate they rely on old-growth forests.

Tarantulas do not weave webs to catch prey and instead spring on their prey, injecting it with venom, when the prey happens by their retreats. They are reclusive and aggressive to humans and have an acute sense of vibrations and hearing, with studies indicating they can detect sounds up to 10 feet away.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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