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Slideshow: Tarantulas Loved to Extinction?

6 December 2013 6:15 pm
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Spiders may not be the most cuddly of species, but some are so prized by collectors that their existence could be in peril. The pet trade is one of the reasons that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) this week took a step toward putting 11 species of tarantula on its list of endangered species. This slideshow highlights some of these colorful species and their natural history.

The spiders live in India and Sri Lanka, so the main impact of listing them would be to generally prohibit their importation or sale within the United States. Most of the species live in trees and are threatened by deforestation. Some will enter homes, where people kill them. All of them are threatened by collection for the pet trade. The reddish parachute spider (Poecilotheria rufilata), in particular, is difficult to breed in captivity, and requires wild individuals.

Brent Hendrixson, a spider biologist at Millsaps College in Jackson, says that habitat destruction is most likely the largest threat to the tarantulas. “It might be a stretch to say that overcollecting is driving the numbers down,” he says. “We don’t have any concrete data on exports from India or Sri Lanka in terms of wild-caught animals.” Most of the individuals in the United States have been propagated through captive breeding programs, he adds. The peacock tarantula (Poecilotheria metallica), in particular, is well suited because it is easy to breed and grows rapidly. They’re also stunningly beautiful.

In 2010, a group called WildEarth Guardians in Santa Fe petitioned FWS to list species of the genus Poecilotheria and on Tuesday, the agency agreed that there’s enough science to warrant further review. That is supposed to take a year, but often stretches out longer. FWS will accept public comments until 3 February.

Søren Rafn

The peacock tarantula (Poecilotheria metallica) is known only from a small forest reserve in Andhra Pradesh, India. Like others in the genus, they make funnel webs inside deep crevices of old growth trees.

 

BayLee's 8 Legged Art

The beautiful parachute spider (Poecilotheria formosa) lives in the Eastern Ghats in southern India and is poorly known. Males have never been discovered.

 

BayLee's 8 Legged Art

The reddish parachute spider (Poecilotheria rufilata) ambushes prey and has been seen capturing young bats. They are smuggled from India into Europe and America for the pet trade.

 

Morkelsker

Found in the Kitulgala Forest Reserve of southern Sri Lanka, the fringed ornamental (Poecilotheria ornata) inflicts a painful bite. Like other tarantulas, its venom is not fatal to humans.

 

Brent Moore

The striated parachute spider (Poecilotheria striata) is popular among pet traders and collectors. It’s found across 2000 km2 of the Western Ghats in India, where its habitat continues to decline.

 

B. Smith

The wonderful parachute spider (Poecilotheria miranda) gets its name because males will sail down from trees to the ground. The population, in the Chhota Nagpur region of northeast India, is thought to be decreasing.

 

Laurence Livermore

The brown parachute spider (Poecilotheria subfusca) comes from south-central Sri Lanka. Scientists surveying their habitat from 2003 to 2005 found only 20 individuals.

 

Zoological Survey of India

The Rameshwaram parachute spider (Poecilotheria hanumavilasumica) was discovered in 2004 in a sacred grove on Rameshwaram Island in southern India. They ambush insects.

 

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