Disturbing online discovery reveals multi-million dollar threat to Australia

Spiders, scorpions, ants, snails and stick insects were just some of the invertebrates being traded.

Australia’s online trade in tarantulas, scorpions, ants, snails and stick insects could be a ticking time bomb that could cost the country millions of dollars in damage.

University of Adelaide researchers discovered 264 native and non-native invertebrate species being traded in Australia, including three 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.

The team examined the creatures being offered at 23 internet pet stores as well as a number of online marketplaces. “The most traded species was the spiny leaf stick insect and the Flinders Ranges scorpion. Other popular species included tarantulas, scorpions, and ants. We even uncovered the trade of 57 species of ant,” study author Charlotte Lassaline said.

Two images of white garden snails. Left - they completely cover a small plant. Right - they are grouped around a metal fence post.
White garden snails pose a serious biosecurity threat to some Australian farms. Source: iStock/Getty

Worryingly some of the species being sold online have the potential to kill their owners if not handled correctly. “Buyers are looking to acquire unusual species of invertebrates — even those that are lethal or dangerous to humans,” Ms Lassaline said.

While researchers have previously looked at the threat of wildlife trading in Australia, this is the first large scale investigation into invertebrates. The team believes what they've uncovered is just the "tip of the iceberg".

Learn more about the online wildlife trade

Insect trade could pose biosecurity risk to Australia

While the traded creatures were likely destined to be kept as pets, if they were to escape they could cause significant harm to agricultural crops and compete with native species.

Researchers are concerned that insect trading regulations between each state differ. Source: Getty
Researchers are concerned that insect trading regulations between each state differ. Source: Getty

Ms Lassaline has warned there is a need to improve regulation as variation between state and territory regulations could be hampering biosecurity and conservation efforts.

“Strengthening regulations, encouraging responsible practices, and fostering collaborations between researchers, hobbyists, and conservation organisations are vital steps towards ensuring the preservation of Australia's unique invertebrate biodiversity,” she said.

The study was published in the journal Austral Entomology on Thursday.

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