Although they won’t fetch your slippers or bark at intruders, Mickey Jacobson swears that tarantulas make terrific pets. “They’re noiseless, odorless and interesting to watch,” says the 31-year-old proprietor of Pet Ranch Imports near Tucson. His warm spot for the yucky arachnids is fortunate. The U.S. Postal Service has told him he can no longer ship up to 200 tarantulas a week—and they’re beginning to back up on him. “Tarantulas are not mailable,” declares Gene Gardner, special services officer for the post office. “That’s ridiculous,” snaps Jacobson. “Anybody with common sense knows tarantulas are harmless.” Tell it to United Parcel, replies Gardner. “I guarantee you that if you get one crawling across a post office floor, some people will panic, and we’ll have a labor relations problem.”
Jacobson, who lives with his business partner, Julie Rotan, is on the verge of panic himself. With 1,000 ordered spiders now in inventory and another 2,000 on their way from Mexico, he is up to his neck in them. At $14.95 for the popular Mexican red leg, tarantulas are a profitable item in his pet catalogue, and if the postal service rejects his appeal of their ruling, Jacobson plans to sue.
Experts support his claim that tarantulas are less monstrous than they look (though they do carry venom). “Tarantulas are not really dangerous to man,” says Larry Nienaber of the Animal Resource Center at Arizona State University. “But their bite is painful.” The same, of course, could be said of dogs—and Jacobson says that many tarantula purchasers (60 percent are women) treat them just like man’s best friend. “We have had customers make little leashes and collars,” he reports, “so they can take them out for walks.” Tarantulas do, however, have one bad habit that could solve his firm’s problem—at a fearful cost. “Tarantulas are cannibalistic,” he explains. “If you keep more than one to a cage, you quickly reduce the population.”