• Tue. Nov 29th, 2022

Endangered insects and spiders sold illegally on eBay and Amazon, study finds

BySamuel M. Craig

Aug 15, 2022

ITHACA, NY— You can find anything on eBay and Amazon, including rare and endangered insects that are illegal to sell. Exotic or endangered insects and spiders can be easily purchased online because there is no proper oversight, a new study by researchers at Cornell University reveals.

Researchers have found that a number of these creepy robots, including tarantulas, are being sold illegally online. John Losey, lead author of the study and professor of entomology at Cornell, explains that the study began as a project for his insect conservation biology class. The study includes 18 student co-authors who were undergraduates in 2019 when the research was conducted.

“We scoured the web to determine if there were any species available for sale that are rare, endangered, or for which the trade is in some way regulated,” Losey explains in a university outing. “As they become more and more rare, they become more and more valuable to collectors, and then the volume of collecting and selling, if not done in a sustainable way, has a greater impact on these species.”

“Amazing how easily endangered species are openly sold online”

The researchers searched the internet extensively and after gathering leads, they formalized their process and spread the searches across multiple platforms, including Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and Alibaba, among others. They then refined their search for vulnerable insects and spider species found on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and the endangered species of the United States.

During their search for online sales, the researchers found 79 species listed on all three lists, including seven species on the Red List, which only names critically endangered insects. Among the insects for sale were a Gooty sapphire tarantula for $232.50 and a Cypriot beetle for $1,100 on eBay. A rare and endangered butterfly, the Luzon Peacock Swallowtail, has been found illegally for sale on Amazon for around $110. The most expensive insect was a species of bird-winged butterfly named Ornithoptera, which is listed in Appendix 2 of CITES, for $3,850 on eBay.

“It was really amazing how easily endangered species are openly sold online,” says Juan Pablo Jordan, a student co-author who is now a doctoral candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “It was also surprising how much the [endangered species] listings are to be found and the convenience of sales platforms that essentially support the trade in endangered species protected by law.

Call for better insect tracking, online sale of spiders

Researchers have also found species that provide ecological services for sale, including ladybugs released for pest control and pollinators. If these insects are diseased or have the wrong strain, they could impact larger wild populations and adversely affect the services they provide.

“We hope our findings will lead to better enforcement of the illegal online sale of rare insects and the protection of these species in the wild,” notes study co-lead author Paul Curtis, wildlife at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

Their findings were shared with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which enforces illegal trade in the species. However, the agency lacks the resources to monitor the trade. Losey hopes to continue the project with student specialists who monitor the web for illegal sales. losey believe insects that provide services should be considered “livestock” so that their unregulated sale could be controlled by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The study is published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.