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Bugs, the Law, and the USDA

By Ryan Huether

There are one million described insect species on this planet. With so much variety in nature, one may wonder why there seems to be such a limited range of insects available as feeders or pets. One of the main limiting factors is government regulation: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires permits for shipping organisms that are potential plant pests.

Plant pest in this instance is interpreted pretty broadly. Encompassing both animals that directly feed on plant material as well as any predatory animal that will prey on pollinators. The goal is to limit the threat posed to the environment and agriculture. Although the regulations certainly have more emphasis on the agricultural impacts, it greatly impacts insect shipments.

Carnivorous insects and other arthropods that do not generally pose a threat to pollinators are virtually unregulated with respect to the USDA.

What This Means for Josh’s Frogs

Due to the nature of the regulations, it becomes very difficult to secure permits for herbivorous insects. This impacts insects that are not already widely available or are considered important research organisms.

The Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Gromphadorhina portentosa, for example, has been used as a model organism in many scientific studies. Though it technically falls under USDA jurisdiction, these cockroaches don't require a USDA permit to ship between states because of their low risk on agriculture. On the other hand, the closely related Halloween Hissing Cockroach Elliptorhina javanica requires each person owning the organism to have their own permit, making them very difficult to buy or sell legally.

This limits Josh's Frogs ability to expand into many areas that we would like. This includes exotic beetles, exotic mantises (which are considered threats to pollinators), and less common exotic roach species.

The good news is that we can legally work with almost any scorpion or spider species we can obtain.  

What This Means for You

Many of you may be wondering, if the USDA is so strict about its regulations for exotic herbivorous insects, why are so many freely available for sale online? And if hissing cockroaches don't require USDA permits, why can't I get them from Josh's Frogs in Florida?

If the USDA is so strict with regulationss, why are so many contoled insects available online?

The USDA's regulations are mostly only strict on paper. Their ability to actively enforce insect regulations is rather limited, so selling insects without the proper permits is relatively easy to get away with. However, just because people can get away with breaking USDA law doesn't mean they should. Here at Josh's Frogs, we follow the regulations set which can mean limiting insect sales.

If hissers don't require permits, why can't I get hissing cockroaches from Josh's Frogs delivered to Florida?

The answer to the Florida question adds another layer of laws to the USDA's. Although there are insects that do not require USDA permits, many states have their own regulations regarding species. In this case, Florida will not allow us to ship Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches into the state. Similarly, we can't ship Dubia Roaches to Florida, California, Louisiana, Alabama, or Hawaii.

The Future of Insect Shipments

In the future, Josh's Frogs hopes to create instructional content that will equip customers with the information they need to be able to apply for their own personal permits for exotic insects. If done correctly, we hope that this will make USDA permits accessible to the public, increasing the species that we are able to ship.

In so doing, we hope hobbyists will be able to enjoy animals currently outside of their range of options.

Do you have an insect species you're interested in that we don't currently provide? Tell us in the comments below!

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