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The Bug Black Market


The black market for insects may have just gotten a whole lot bigger. And yes, there is a black market for bugs. Last month, thousands of insects were stolen from the Philadelphia Insectarium. Reportedly, it was an inside job by some disgruntled former employees. Well, wouldn't working with so many bugs gruntle you? The bugs are valued at around $50,000.

BILL REYNOLDS: Butterfly specimens have been known to easily fetch a few thousand dollars.

SIMON: That's Bill Reynolds, curator of the Arthropod Zoo at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. He told us over Skype the black market for exotic animals is rife with insects and spiders. Hobbyists, pet stores, even some adventurous home cooks all over the world are trying to avoid the red tape of animal exporting laws to get their hands on exotic insects.

REYNOLDS: The modern day Internet has made it much easier for people to seek out and acquire. Generally, it begins in countries where regulations are either few and far between or very difficult to enforce.

SIMON: But before you bid on rhinoceros beetle larvae - which, or who, by the way, look kind of cute and videos, sort of like small, wiggling otters - Mr. Reynolds says make sure it's legal larvae. He thinks U.S. authorities haven't gone after black market buyers and sellers of bugs with so much as a flyswatter.

REYNOLDS: Unfortunately, invertebrates have not gotten the attention that things such as the elephants for their ivory or the rhinos for their horns have gotten in more recent years.

SIMON: But the great Philly invertebrate heist has drawn more attention to criminal entomology. If you happen to see the coveted and venomous six-eyed sand spider on an auction website, maybe just order a pair of socks instead. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.