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More than 300 smuggled tarantulas, scorpions and giant cockroaches seized from luggage in Colombia

Tarantulas were among the over 300 living arthropods that authorities recently confiscated at Colombia's El Dorado International Airport.
Tarantulas were among the over 300 living arthropods that authorities recently confiscated at Colombia's El Dorado International Airport. (Image credit: Colombia Department of Environment)

Hundreds of Colombian tarantulas, giant cockroaches and scorpions that were crammed into a suitcase and illegally bound for Europe were seized last week by authorities at El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá, Colombia.

Airport police spotted the living cargo in luggage belonging to two German citizens who were leaving the country, and they alerted the Ministry of Environment, agency representatives said in a statement on Dec. 2. 

Authorities then confiscated more than 300 animals in 210 plastic containers that the travelers had stored between rolls of film. The tubs held 232 spiders — trapdoor spiders and tarantulas — 67 giant cockroaches, a scorpion with seven young, and nine spider eggs, according to the statement. Though the German citizens claimed that they were transporting the arthropods to Germany for research, they did not have the proper authorization for removing the animals from the country, ministry officials said.

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"Despite, like these citizens, having supposed academic or research purposes, any investigation must have explicit permission from the environmental authorities," Secretary of the Environment Carolina Urrutia Vásquez said in the statement (translated from Spanish). The apprehended travelers didn't have the permits and licenses required in Colombia to collect and transport arthropods in Colombia, and they could face fines as well as civil and criminal prosecution for their actions, according to the statement.

Investigators determined that the smuggled arthropods had been collected in the northeast of Bogotá in Boyacá, in the municipality of San Luis de Gaceno. The illicit cargo included individuals in the scorpion family Buthidae; the giant cockroach family Blaberidae; and the spider families Barychelidae (trapdoor spiders) and Theraphosidae (tarantulas).

Officials found giant cockroaches in the Blaberidae family among the smuggled arthropods. (Image credit: Colombia Department of Environment)

In September, Colombian authorities foiled another illegal export operation, confiscating 3,493 shark fins and 256 pounds (117 kilograms) of fish swim bladders that were headed from Bogotá's airport to Hong Kong. The airport "continues to be a focus of attention for wildlife trafficking in Bogotá," Secretary Urrutia Vásquez said in the statement. In 2021 alone, officials recovered more than 11,000 trafficked specimens at the El Dorado International Airport; of those, 7,058 were living, ministry officials reported.

Originally published on Live Science.

Mindy Weisberger
Mindy Weisberger

Mindy Weisberger is a Live Science senior writer covering a general beat that includes climate change, paleontology, weird animal behavior, and space. Mindy holds an M.F.A. in Film from Columbia University; prior to Live Science she produced, wrote and directed media for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Her videos about dinosaurs, astrophysics, biodiversity and evolution appear in museums and science centers worldwide, earning awards such as the CINE Golden Eagle and the Communicator Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post and How It Works Magazine.