Conservation biology issues for the commercial insect trade in Japan: bumblebees for agriculture and companion animal insects as examples


K. Goka

Japan imports a wide range of insects and arthropods for industrial and companion animal purposes. The international transport of insects carries the risk that introduced species may become invasive alien species, threatening local ecosystems. It is also possible that the increased economic value of rare species may lead to overexploitation at the region of origin. Two iconic imported insects that have caused ecological problems in Japan are bumblebees for agriculture and companion animal beetles. Commodity colonies of the agricultural bumblebee Bombus terrestris have been imported since the 1990s and have made a significant contribution to agricultural production. As a result of its progressive feralisation, however, it has caused ecological impacts on native bumblebees through competition, hybridisation, and the introduction of alien parasites, as well as posing a risk to native plant reproduction. The species is currently permitted for agricultural use only in netted greenhouses. Imports of companion animal beetles flourished in the 2000s and the market size was thought to have reached the multi-billion-yen level. The popularity of rare species, in particular, led to a sharp rise in selling prices, and overhunting in and smuggling from their countries of origin became a problem. In addition, exotic species pose an ecological risk as invasive species, and if they become established in the natural environment of Japan it is suggested that they will have a serious impact on the ecosystem. At present there are no clear legal restrictions on the importation of foreign beetles, but the government is trying to improve the ethical standards for the breeding of beetles through a campaign for sellers and breeders. In addition, imports of a variety of arthropods, such as tarantulas, centipedes and scorpions are becoming increasingly popular in Japan. Many of these transactions are carried out between individuals via the internet, making it difficult to ascertain the actual state of importation and breeding. These examples of insect importation problems in Japan raise issues for the future of international trade in commercial insects as follows: 1) overexploitation of species being collected in their native habitats due to their rarity; 2) smuggling and trafficking of species for which collection and sale is prohibited; 3) the risk of escaped individuals becoming established in the new location as alien species; and 4) the risk of introducing associated micro-organisms and parasites, which are often difficult to detect and overlooked.

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