Mexico can now lay claim to the title for having the largest number of tarantula species in the world.
That’s what Rodrigo Orozco Torres says, and he should know: Orozco Torres is the founder and operator of the Tarántulas de México Wildlife Management Unit (UMA) in Guadalajara, Jalisco.
Despite scientific literature still recognizing Brazil as home to the world’s greatest diversity of tarantulas, Orozco Torres says Mexico now has the greatest number of different species in the world “and we haven’t even scratched the surface.”
“Three years ago we were in second place but now we are easily beating Brazil.”
Orozco Torres’ website, Tarántulas de México, lists 66 species in Mexico.
The primary function of the tarantulas UMA, established in 2002, is to breed and raise the arthropods. It also educates and raises awareness about the hairy creatures, which Orozco Torres describes as timid animals that are harmless to humans.
“The tarantula’s worst enemy is ignorance,” he says. “The objective of the UMA is to reproduce Mexican tarantulas in captivity and also demystify everything that is erroneously believed about them.”
The spider specialist explained that by breeding Mexican tarantulas in captivity the demand for them as pets can be met and the ecological imbalance caused by their removal from their ecosystems can be avoided.
“I started breeding tarantulas with the aim of having 10,000-12,000 per year and I achieved that after five or six years,” Orozco Torres said.
Species raised in the center include several of the Brachypelma genus, which is native to Mexico. Tarantulas commonly known as the Mexican redknee, Mexican redleg and Mexican pink are all bred at the unit. The latter is native to Jalisco and is the country’s largest. All are popular in the pet trade.
There is also international demand for Mexican tarantulas. Swiss customs officials intercepted a man trying to smuggle 261 Mexican redknee tarantulas into the country at the Zurich airport in 2011.
In captivity a tarantula can live for up to 30 years. Sexual maturity is reached on average at eight years and a female can have up to 1,000 young per breeding cycle.
“However, only one of these will reach the adult stage,” Orozco Torres says. “A female that lives 30 years will have approximately eight or nine babies that grow into adults.”
He also noted that tarantulas have a very important role in the ecosystem as they eliminate insect plagues. “Arthropods are the most important animals on earth because they are everywhere. We depend on them 100%.”
The first reintroduction of tarantulas to their natural habitat is planned for 2018.
The Guadalajara UMA forms part of the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources’ strategy for conservation of Mexico’s wildlife.