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.