LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - A German national who shipped hundreds of live tarantulas into the United States through the mail has pleaded guilty to a federal smuggling charge, prosecutors said.
In pleading guilty on Tuesday, 37-year-old Sven Koppler admitted mailing some 247 live tarantulas to federal agents in Los Angeles, who were posing as buyers as part of an investigation dubbed “Operation Spiderman.”
Koppler further admitted sending the agents 22 Mexican red-kneed tarantulas, a species of spider formally known as Brachypelma smithi that is protected under an international treaty.
Koppler, who lives in Wachtberg, Germany, faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison when he is sentenced on April 11, U.S. Attorney’s spokesman Thom Mrozek said.
Authorities say the investigation into Koppler began in March, when a routine inspection turned up about 300 live tarantulas in a package he mailed to Los Angeles.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents ordered more spiders from Koppler and were sent a total of five packages containing dozens of live and dead tarantulas.
He was arrested on December 2 after arriving in Los Angeles to meet with an associate.
Koppler received about $300,000 (187,617.26 pounds) as a result of tarantula sales to spider fanciers in dozens of countries, including nine in the United States, according to court documents.
The Mexican red-kneed tarantula, which is native to Mexico, can grow to about 4 inches long, with a leg span of 6 inches, and has a dark body with orange patches on the legs, giving it the “red-kneed” appearance.
The spiders are considered docile and females can live for more than 20 years.
The Brachypelma genus of spider is protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species because it is considered threatened, and can only be legally traded with permits from the exporting country.
Editing by Peter Bohan