For many years high quality lumber, plywood, and composite wood beams were a major export item from the Province of British Columbia (BC). In terms of market value though, it was long rumored that (illicit) products from the cannabis plant, commonly known as pot, were BC’s true major export item. Of course, if the laws on pot use are going to change as widely anticipated, both in Canada and the U.S., it may indeed become an official export item for BC.
However, there is another Canadian export item that you may not be aware of, namely tarantulas—yes, live tarantulas. At least that‘s what Mexican tarantula breeders say, as reported by the BBC.
Mexican “redknee tarantulas”
These redknee critters (RKTs) seem to be all the rage as pets in Mexico and elsewhere. Formerly exported from Mexico, it appears that they cannot satisfy the demand and have become importers of these hairy arachnids. If the stats are correct, Canada even exports more varieties of the Mexican redknee tarantula (Brachypelma sp.) to Mexico than are grown by breeders there.
Presumably, these tarantulas make good pets as they are claimed to be “generally docile and calm” and have a life span of up to 25 years. With such traits, pet lovers in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. apparently are willing to part with a few hundred dollars for one nice looking RKT specimen.
Actually, these giant members of the spider kind do look quite pretty with their red “knees,” as shown in the nearby picture. Of course, tarantulas, like most members of the spider family, have venomous bites that are claimed to have effects similar to the stings from wasps and may “cause serious discomfort that might persist for several days, so far no bite has been reported to cause a human fatality.” Tarantulas also have urticating (irritating) bristles, some with barbs, that can become embedded in the skin or eyes, causing physical irritation, “usually to great discomfort” (Wikipedia). I suspect that some of the 900 tarantula species may cause more than “great discomfort.”
But back to the trade in hairy arachnids.
International Spider Trade
The international trade in rare species (alive, dead, or their body parts) is controlled in many countries, including Canada. Although the RKT is not listed as an endangered species anywhere (and is not native to Canada), it is listed together with another 21,000 species in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Among these 21,000 species are the American black bear (Ursus americanus) and the Hartmann’s mountain zebra (Equus hartmannae) from southern Africa. Consequently, an export permit is required to ship them out of Canada. Various details of the international tarantula trade were discussed at the Tarantula Trinational Trade and Enforcement Workshop under the auspices of the Canada-Mexico-USA Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) that quite recently concluded in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.
The current council members of the CEC include the Minister of Environment and Climate Change (Canada), the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (Mexico), and the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USA). The CEC set a budget of US$ 9 million for the financial year 2018.
With such high-level protectors in charge of their fate, the redknee spiders’ knees may just blush a bit more. Still, I don’t intend to acquire one as a pet any time soon.