Endangered butterflies and spiders ‘being sold illegally on Amazon’

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Rare and threatened insects are being sold online, the researchers said  (AFP via Getty Images)
Rare and threatened insects are being sold online, the researchers said (AFP via Getty Images)

Rare, endangered and threatened insects and spiders are being sold online as pets, researchers have found.

Experts at Cornell University claimed a Luzon peacock swallowtail, one of the rarest butterflies which is listed as endangered and is illegal to trade, was found for sale at Amazon for around $110 (£88).

Many species of live tarantulas which are not endangered but whose trade is tightly controlled were also listed for sale.

John Losey, professor of entomology and lead author of the paper, Insects and Spiders on the Web: Monitoring and Mitigating Online Exploitation of Species and Services, said: “We surveyed the web to determine if there were species available for sale that are rare, threatened, or for which commerce is in some way regulated.

“As they get rarer and rarer, they become more and more valuable to collectors, and then the amount of collecting and sale, if not done sustainably, has greater impact on those species.”

The most expensive insect the researchers discovered for sale was a birdwing butterfly species named Ornithoptera allottei, which they said was listed on eBay for $3,850 (£3,070).

The team also found species for sale that should only be bought through regulated sources, such as ladybugs released for pest control.

They said inadvertently releasing diseased insects, the wrong strain or batches not suited for certain areas could have a negative impact on wild populations of animals.

Many species of live tarantulas which are not endangered but whose trade is tightly controlled were also listed for sale (PA Wire)
Many species of live tarantulas which are not endangered but whose trade is tightly controlled were also listed for sale (PA Wire)

Paul Curtis, a senior co-author on the paper and an extension wildlife specialist in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, said: “Hopefully, our findings will lead to better enforcement of the illegal online sale of rare insects and protect those species in the wild.”

The study, which has been shared with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, was published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.

An eBay spokesperson said: “eBay does not permit the sale of endangered or threatened species. We have block filter algorithms aimed to prevent the sale of prohibited items and, on the very rare occasion that such items evade our filters, our security teams will remove them from the site.

“We have identified a small number of animal-related listings that contravene our policy and are removing them. We will also take enforcement action against sellers breaching this policy, which may include suspending accounts or permanent bans.”

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Third party sellers are independent businesses and are required to follow our selling guidelines and all applicable laws, when selling animals or animal-related products.

“We clearly prohibit the sale of endangered species, we are investigating the product in question and will take appropriate action on any non-compliant listings.”

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