Confiscated spiders find new home at Insect Zoo

Ginny Mitchell with baby tarantula

Ginny Mitchell, Insect Zoo education program coordinator, holds up a single vial containing a 4-week-old tarantula. Photos by Christopher Gannon.

The Iowa State University Insect Zoo welcomed 169 baby tarantulas this week after being selected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to receive the confiscated spiders.

Ginny Mitchell, Insect Zoo education program coordinator, said this is the first time the Insect Zoo has received confiscated animals from USFWS. The USFWS only sends confiscated animals to zoos, museums and other established institutions. Mitchell, who is on a listserv for zoos around the country, responded to a request for assistance for the spiders, confiscated Friday at the Port of Los Angeles, which led to Iowa State's selection.  

Vials of baby tarantulas

Small vials containing the 169 baby tarantulas. Larger image.

The tarantulas arrived Tuesday afternoon and were carefully unboxed by Insect Zoo staff and student workers. Ten of the tarantulas were given to Reiman Gardens and the remaining 159 will be raised in the zoo until they are big enough to be offered to other zoos. Mitchell hopes to keep half of them here at Iowa State where they’ll join other venomous species of spiders and scorpions as permanent zoo residents.

Tarantulas, including the Caribena versicolor (more commonly known as the Antilles pinktoe, or Martinique pinktoe, native to the Caribbean island of Martinique) now residing in the Insect Zoo, are one of the many animals trafficked in the illegal pet trading industry. The illegal pet trade is estimated to be worth up to $20 billion annually. Mitchell said most people think of reptiles, birds, monkeys and other larger fauna -- not tarantulas, butterflies and beetles -- when they think of this illicit industry.

"Many animals, such as tarantulas, are collected in the wild and sent to other countries for the pet industry. When animals are taken out of the wild, it reduces the general population and gene pool which can lead to the decimation of the species," she said.

Some species, like the rose hair tarantulas from Chile, are protected and not allowed to be removed from that country, Mitchell said.

"But even these protections cannot guarantee that they are not," she added.

Located in 432 Science Hall II, the Insect Zoo in the entomology department seeks to foster an appreciation of insects in Iowa and throughout the world. The zoo offers a variety of outreach initiatives including summer programs, school displays, story time with bugs and buggy birthday parties. Learn more on the Insect Zoo website.


Tiernen Edgar with baby tarantula

Sophomore Tiernen Edgar, entomology student employee, lets one of the four-week-old tarantulas walk down his hand at the Insect Zoo.