Uses of Tarantulas | Increase in Extinction | Causes of Extinction | Threatened Habitats
The Failure of CITES | Things You Can Do | Enviro Links
 
Uses of Tarantulas
  Tarantulas are bugs, pure and simple.  In light of that, most people regard bugs as pests and therefore hasten to eradicate them with impunity and without any foresight.  The fact is that theraphosids are valuable; their habits make them a keystone species within their niches.  They provide natural habitat margins for other species, keep insect populations in check (with a balance that only Mother Nature can provide), are a food source for other animals, and are medically and scientifically important for humans.   For example, the Chilean Rosehair (Grammostola rosea) has venom that may assist those who have had a heart attack because their venom has a protein that can actually prevent heart fibrillation.  Until now, modern medicine has only been able to treat the symptoms rather than causes of this deadly condition.  Also, the venom of the Cameroon Red Baboon (Hysterocrates gigas) is being researched as a possible treatment for neurological disorders.  Furthermore, the flexibility and strength-to-weight ratio of spiderweb is without parallel.  Humans can not currently produce twine or plastics or metals that come anywhere near the quality of the spider's web, but we may learn how if we are wise enough to study rather than exterminate these wonderful creatures.
 
Marked Increase in Rate of Extinction:
     Like most animals, the primary threat to tarantulas is the destruction of where they live.  Human development has taken an alarming toll on the environment.  Natural causes, such as evolutionary adaptation, global cooling, and the odd asteroid strike, used to eliminate a species at the average of .0000001% of all species per year.  Since mankind's age of expansionism, industrialization, and world dominance began about 500 years ago, the extinction rate has redlined.  North America alone has lost an average of 1.1 species per year between 1600 and 1900 (the fact that European colonization began at the same time as a marked acceleration in extinction rates is surely no coincidence).  Now, at the birth of the new millennium, we have raised the rate of extinction to a level that is staggering!  A median estimate by ecologists asserts that the Earth loses one species every 15 minutes.  Over the span of 20 years, that would mean 700,800 plants and animals would no longer exist.  Other ecologists think that we may lose up to 1 million species within 20 years.  Scientist W.V. Reid has formulated a model, meticulously taking into account the rate of the destruction of various species' natural habitats, and figured that we permanently eradicate 8,000 - 28,000 species per year  (Reid 1992).  While that's on the low end of other scientists' arithmetic, it is still no less alarming when one considers that the rate of extinction has been increased approximately 10,000 times in the latter half of the 20th century!
 
The Cause of Extinction
      The great sadness of the current mass killings is that it is unnatural and preventable.  Instead of an asteroid or evolved competition for food exterminating that poor tarantula or other animal, it is the bulldozer fueled by greed.  Money is the cause.  Trade treaties such as NAFTA allow corporations to set up shop in poor countries, level whatever habitat they choose, and then further destroy and pollute with a mocking sneer in the face of whatever weak and largely unenforced environmental regulations are presented.  The environment of Mexico is a prime example of such tragedy.  While regulations such as former President Zedillo's SIRGE (Sistema Integrado de Regulacion Directa y Gestion Ambiental de la Industria) look pretty on the political platform, they are nothing but a breeze that has blown by in comparison to the cold, steel-firm infrastructure of corporate avarice.  Mexico City still reigns as one the the most polluted places in the world.  Reports of human disease and birth defects in the US occurring along the Mexican border due to pollution are well-documented.  Ironically, perhaps pitifully, those that complain are probably buying many products made in Mexico because of their lower price.
     A hemisphere away, India is another grand joke of environmental politics that just isn't funny.  As its population more than doubled in the latter half of the 20th century, India's environment was shattered.  The government first enacted an environmental protection amendment to its constitution that was 0% effective and 100% posturing, as the amendment stated that it could not be enforced by any court!  In 1986, India tried to clean up its act, but failed miserably.  While other countries modernized their energy sources, India maintained its reliance on antiquated coal power and therefore has sharply increased its harmful carbon emissions while neighboring countries were able to lessen theirs.  In light of a largely poor human population that has exploded, the Indian government is simply unable to do more than merely say it would like to reduce habitat destruction and pollution.  Its focus is instead on urbanization and the development of infrastructure; India just can't afford to say no to companies and the jobs they bring.  The result is unpotable tapwater in even developed cites, an 80% loss of its forest, and the unstoppable, destructive juggernaught of 1 billion people, most of whom appeared in the span of 5 decades.
      In short, people and their desire for MORE is the reason species are going away.  A profound increase in people, people that want bigger houses, even a "vacation condo," gas guzzling SUV's, new shoes every month, Big Macs, and a host of other unnecessary, superficial things are why the extinction rate has increased many thousandfold recently.  The cries of "more" and "cheap" ring loud in politicians' ears, and the irreversible effects on the environment are profound.
 
Where the Habitat is Being Destroyed
   Of relevance to these webpages is where tarantulas live.  Unfortunately, that's where people want to live as well.  The environment is being wrecked on this planet from pole to pole, but the most noticeable effects are in the temperate regions where tarantulas are indigenous.  Of primary concern is the rainforest:


In this patch of Costa Rican rainforest, there are more species of plants and animals per square meter than anywhere else on Earth.  Most of those species are found in no other locale.  Forests like this are being destroyed at the rate of two hectares per minute for logging purposes, as well as to make room for cattle farms, housing, and factories (Reid 1992).  A hectare is 10,000 square meters, roughly larger than two football fields in area.  Envision the rate of human and industrial loss if a fire consumed Manhattan in half an hour and you have the general equivalent of rainforest destruction.
 

 

25% of the species in the southwestern desert pictured on the right live nowhere else, including some of the only remaining US tarantulas.  The main threat of this region is population expansion.

 
This used to be pristine Florida scrubland, until it was dug up and then leveled to build a condominium.  Now it serves as a prime example of how money talks and the law walks.  In the remaining scrub habitat of central Florida live some species that are threatened or endangered or simply don't occur anywhere else. Though no tarantulas have been known to be truly native to this region, the raping of this habitat is the epitome of the wanton environmental abuse occurring globally.  Some of the now rare species killed in the photo to the right are:
Animals

Short tail snake- rarest species of snake in eastern North America- only occurs in central Florida
Scrub Jay- threatened
Gopher tortoise-species of special concern that is a keystone to most of the other animals in its niche
Florida worm lizard- the only amphisbanian in the United States.  Only occurs in central Florida.  Extinct everywhere else in the US.
Sand Skink- occurs nowhere else in the world but Central Florida
Florida Scrub lizard- used to be all over Florida.  Several species have gone extinct in South Florida due to development
Blue tailed mole skink- threatened species
Indigo snake-threatened species
Red widow- species of special concern, very limited range in Central Florida
Gopher frog- species of special concern

Plants

Scrub lupine-will probably be extinct in a few years.  You may view the few clumps of remaining specimens near Interstate 4 west of Orlando if you hurry.
Yellow scrub balm-endangered, nearly extinct
Pygmy fringetree-endangered
Sandlace-endangered
Scrub plum-endangered
Short leaved rosemary-endangered
Scrub beargrass-endangered
Scrub blazing star-endangered
Four petal paw paw- endangered

One would think that a condo developer would have to jump through some serious hoops to plow such a habitat.  Not so!  Central Florida is one of the most rapidly growing areas in the US and construction is rampant.  In the above photo, numerous endangered and threatened species were killed so that retired people could have a winter home named "Lantana," which, in a sick twist of irony, is the name of a species of scrub and also the name of a flower that means "I am unyielding."
 
The failure of CITES
    As one could clearly conclude by the information presented above, the population of many species is dwindling due to the deliberate destruction of their habitats.  In addition, it is apparent that such destruction will not stop unless people examine their day-to-day lives and make great changes in their current behavior.  Governments have made treaties and laws in an attempt to slow the pace of the environmental onslaught, but have had little to no effect.  In regard to tarantulas, one such failed resolution is CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
CITES, as well-intentioned as it may have originally been, is sorely lacking the tools to be effective concerning tarantulas.
     CITES was signed into treaty in July of 1975 and now has a membership of 152 countries.  Representatives of these countries get together in a COP (Conference of Parties) to decide what species should be added to a list of those that may not be internationally traded.  The idea is to prevent species from becoming extinct by stemming their trade in the pet or novelty market, which sounds well and good.  However, the pet trade is not a primary threat to most species.  Again, the primary threat is habitat destruction.  CITES is incapable of enforcing environmental regulations in the countries to which they sequester animals.  When CITES banned the international trade in Brachypelma species, they simply resigned them to the fate of the Mexican government's whims with regard to ecology.  At best, the United States' attempt to include Poecilotheria species to CITES last year is a laughable lack of intelligence.  Sadly, I think the worst and that the proposal was a political move, an attempt to look like "environmentalists" without regard to the true mechanics of the situation.  80% of Poecilotheria's habitat was recently destroyed in India; it doesn't take a minute's thought to see that imprisoning those tarantulas in a region with such a poor track record is an utterly ineffective measure.
     Including tarantulas to CITES would only be functional if one condition were true:  their rate of exportation for the pet trade exceeded their rate of demise in their native regions.  In light of the habitat destruction in India, I would guess that every American child would have to get a Poecilotheria sp. for Christmas for the commercial trade to come close to meeting such a condition.  Until individual countries make and enforce measures to protect their environments, the inclusion of tarantulas to CITES is not only pointless, it could be detrimental.
 
What the individual can do:
While no one person can resolve the complex problems that cause habitat destruction, individuals can make a difference.  Here are some ideas that directly and indirectly help tarantulas:

1.  Become political and vote.  Examine a politician's record of actions and vote for those that will work to manage natural resources with sensibility and effectiveness.  Beware of political posturing and mindless harping, as both are common activities of some "environmental" groups.

2.  Watch what you buy.  Is the "cool" new bnrand-name shirt you're thinking of buying from a factory in Malaysia that was planted in what was once rainforest, but is now a smog producing sweatshop?  Do you really NEED that shirt? Does your car burn ridiculous amounts of fuel in comparison to more efficient and practical models?  Does your bank or credit card company invest in the development of fragile ecosystems?

3.  Watch what you eat.  It takes an inordinate amount of land and resources to produce a pound of beef, and that land is often cleared Mexican, South and Central American habitat for some pretty unique flora and fauna.  Educate yourself to make personal choices in your diet.  Even your protoclogist will tell you no one needs beef every day.

4.  Breed your tarantulas!  Obviously, you're on the internet.  There is myriad of people online asking for or offering mature males to breed.  If you have one, they'll often go through the work of breeding it for you, then give you 50-100 or more baby spiders in return!  Any feasible chance of breeding tarantulas should be attempted.  Also, you'll find many people that sell mostly captive-bred specimens.  Support them and their efforts. 

5.  Share everything you know about tarantulas!  You can make your own website  (it's easy, too.  If I can do it, you surely can do a better job!), you can publish articles to various societies (there's a list on the "Works Cited" page of this site), you can advise pet stores on their proper care, give talks at schools, etc.

 
 

 
 
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