An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Wired: Spiders and scorpions may seem like creatures that need to be crushed rather than conserved, but wildlife experts say a growing global pet trade is putting wild populations at risk, even though they help humans and ecosystems. Collectors are now trading more than 1,200 species of arachnids (the group that includes both spiders and scorpions), according to a new report out today in the journal Communications Biology, with 80 percent of them unmonitored and vulnerable to extinction. “These are species for which trade is completely legal, but there’s no data on how sustainable it is,” says Alice Hughes, an author of the study and an associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Hong Kong.

Hughes and her colleagues developed an algorithm to scan websites that sell spiders and scorpions online, including those that represent brick-and-mortar pet shops. Then they compared those to existing trading databases compiled by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The researchers found that from 2000 to 2021, 77 percent of one species known as the emperor scorpion were collected from the wild, with 1 million imported into the US. More than half of the existing species of tarantulas are being traded, including 600,000 Grammostola tarantulas, a group that includes the Chilean rose tarantula, which is commonly found in pet stores. The study estimates that two-thirds of spiders and scorpions that are traded commercially were collected from the wild, rather than captive-bred.

Researchers like Hughes, who conducts field studies throughout southeast Asia, still do not have enough information about the abundance of arachnids worldwide; her study notes that there are more than a million invertebrate species on the planet that have been identified by biologists but fewer than 1 percent have been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as to their population status. And commercial trade is putting arachnids at risk before scientists can learn much about them. While spiders and scorpions may seem dangerous, they are usually not so if left alone. Arachnids also keep insect pests in check, and spider venoms have been found to contain antimicrobial, painkilling, and cancer-fighting compounds, making them potential candidates for new drug development.

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