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Endangered tarantulas seized by federal agents find new home at MoBot

Missouri Botanical Garden Senior Entomologist Tad Yankoski, left, and Invertebrate Collections Assistant Nicole Pruess, right, now care for 98 Antilles pinktoe tarantulas at the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House.
Lara Hamdan
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Botanical Garden senior entomologist Tad Yankoski, left, and invertebrate collections assistant Nicole Pruess now care for 98 Antilles pinktoe tarantulas at the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House.
A baby Antilles pinktoe tarantula prepares to capture and eat a cricket.
Lara Hamdan
St. Louis Public Radio
The spiderlings are currently on a diet of fruit flies, and some of them are starting to eat crickets as well.

St. Louis “Bug Dad” Tad Yankoski is now caring for 98 Antilles pinktoe tarantulas at the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House in Chesterfield — that’s thanks to his connection with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents who intercepted an illegally transported package of the endangered species on Feb. 9.

“People are collecting them to sell to middlemen, to sell to wholesalers that ship them around the world for the pet trade,” he said.

“Our assumption is that these tarantulas were brought into the country with good intentions,” Yankoski said, adding that the species only recently gained endangered status protection under CITES, which is an international organization to protect endangered animals and plants.

“These spiders have been part of the pet trade for decades, and over time, the people in their home country [Martinique] are realizing that there are fewer and fewer of them in the wild,” he said. “We're afraid if the trend continues as it has been for the last few decades, that eventually they're going to be over-collected to the point of extinction.”

Antilles pinktoe tarantulas at Butterfly House.
Lara Hamdan
St. Louis Public Radio
Newborn Antilles pinktoe tarantulas are blue. As they mature, the top of their head becomes a teal blue and their legs and abdomen are a vibrant pink.

This is a problem, he added, because tarantulas are important predators in their ecosystems, and there can be a dramatic chain reaction that happens when predators are removed.

Once these tarantulas are big enough to be shipped safely, many will go to captive rearing programs across the country. Several of them will stay at the Butterfly House, and the public will be able to see them at the facility as soon as this May.

Yankoski hopes that having more captive-bred tarantulas will help support wild populations of their species.

“Hopefully, in the future, fewer and fewer tarantulas and other insects and arthropods will be wild collected for the pet trade — or for insectarium or zoo use — and more and more will be captive bred.”

Yankoski joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss what it’s like to care for the tarantulas, how they are a vital part of the ecosystem in their home country and why it’s important to avoid support of the black market pet trade for exotic insects. Invertebrate collections assistant Nicole Pruess joined the conversation.

Listen to this episode of St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Learn how MoBot's ‘Bug Dad’ cares for 100 baby tarantulas

Related Event
What: Tacos, Tequila and Tarantulas
When: 6 p.m. May 5
Where: Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House (15050 Faust Park Drive, Chesterfield, MO 63017)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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