Australia Post is cracking down on the shipment of spiders and other insects as the online trade of invertebrates, including tarantulas, scorpions, ants continues to grow.
At least 260 types of terrestrial species — including insects, spiders and scorpions that don't have a backbone — are being advertised online for sale by local websites, researchers at the University of Adelaide discovered last month, in what's being dubbed a "booming trade" in Australia.
Australia Post prohibits live animals from being shipped domestically, except for bees, leeches and silkworms. "Other harmless insects" are also accepted for agricultural purposes only, its guidelines state.
Spiders not allowed under AusPost guidelines
According to the ABC, many bug sellers believe the phrase "harmless insect" refers to things like scorpions and some spiders — despite technically being an arachnid — but according to the national postal service, that interpretation is wrong.
"Australia Post's terms and conditions prohibit the carriage of living creatures, with only a few very specific exceptions for agricultural purposes," a spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia. Yahoo understands spiders and scorpions are considered "living creatures" and therefore prohibited.
"These rules are there for ethical and practical reasons, and to protect the safety of our team members," the spokesperson added. The postal service said it's communicating with a number of online businesses to make sure they understand the rules.
Insect trading a threat to Australia's biosecurity
University of Adelaide's lead researcher and PhD student Charlotte Lassaline said the selling of insects is "quite a booming trade and [is in] demand in Australia", with some selling for up to $300 each. The most traded species is the spiny leaf stick insect and the Flinders Ranges scorpion, however, other popular species included tarantulas, scorpions, and ants.
While most of the invertebrates were native species, Charlotte said at least three were invasive— the white garden snail, the Asian tramp snail, and the African big-headed ant which is listed as one of the world's worst 100 pests — which all pose a serious threat to Australia's biosecurity.
"Encouraging people to learn more about and develop a passion for invertebrates is highly important for their conservation; however, it is equally important to regulate the trade of these species to mitigate associated risks," Charlotte said.
Concern for wild species
There are also growing concerns from industry experts that the practice is threatening wild species.
Website Minibeast Wildlife is one of many in Australia which sells dozens of different invertebrates. The website's operator Alan Henderson agreed that keeping bugs as pets encourages their conservation, but said the industry has gone too far.
"We have been concerned for some time that there is the great risk of over collection of vulnerable species, and have been promoting captive breeding as an alternative," Mr Henderson said.
He "fully supports" a ban on posting dangerous or deadly insects, such as funnel web spiders, but believes non-venomous types should still be allowed.
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