Forget bringing home a dog or even a goldfish, Australians are choosing to keep tarantulas, stick insects, and even cockroaches as pets.
The most traded species online is the giant prickly stick insect with the most commonly advertised species including stick insects, tarantulas and ants.
However, research has revealed that some of the species traded online including the white garden snail, the African big-headed ant and the Asian tramp snail were highly invasive and could pose a serious threat to Australia's biosecurity.
Co-founder of Mini Beast Wildlife shop, Alan Henderson said the popularity of buying insects as pets had grown in the past decade.
When Mr Henderson started the insect shop and educational resource in Queensland with his partner they only sold insects to schools.
"It just expanded from there that people started wanting them at home," Mr Henderson said.
First look into Australia's insect trade
University of Adelaide PhD student Charlotte Lassaline is researching the rapidly growing trade of invertebrates across Australia.
A new study found there are 264 species of invertebrates being traded online, 57 of which are ant species but co-author Ms Lassaline suspects it is just scratching the surface.
It is the first time any study has looked at the pet trade of both native and non-native invertebrates in Australia.
"We were just very surprised by the demand for invertebrates in Australia," Ms Lassaline said.
The most traded species is the giant prickly stick insect. The most commonly advertised species were stick insects, tarantulas, and ants, she said.
A number of the popular species traded were dangerous, even lethal.
"A lot of people are buying ones that can bite you, that you don't want to handle because they can bite or sting, some are even lethal to humans," she said.
Conservation and biosecurity risk
The research revealed that three of the species traded, the white garden snail, the African big-headed ant and the Asian tramp snail, were highly invasive.
"They can eat agricultural crops, they can compete with native invertebrates for food for resources," she said
There are concerns that the trade of the white garden snail could cause further damage to crops and farming equipment in new areas across Australia.
"This is a little white snail that poses a big threat to agriculture."
The Asian tramp snail could also potentially spread rat lung worm disease, an extremely rare meningitis, she said.
Snatching insects from the wild
Some of the insects advertised online were listed as 'wild harvested', a practice of collecting insects from the wild.
Ms Lassaline was particularly concerned about insects that had a small population and lived in a restricted area.
Flinders Ranges Scorpion is one of the most popular invertebrates sold all throughout Australia, according to the research. The species is restricted to the Flinders Ranges and South Australia.
"We just don't know how wild harvesting could impact their population because we don't know how big their numbers are in the wild," she said.
Ms Lassaline found the conservation status of more than 90 per cent of the traded invertebrates had not been evaluated.
"There are definitely people out there that are just reaping and pillaging from the wild and making money from collecting and selling," Mr Henderson said.
Mini Beast Wildlife shop's Mr Henderson advises consumers to ask about where the insects were from and he encouraged captive breeding.
Aside from conservation issues, he said invertebrates that weer collected from the wild could carry diseases.
So, how do you know if you're purchasing an insect collected from the wild?
"Sellers that are collecting from the wild will be selling adults and they might only be selling limited numbers too."
Is trading insects legal?
Importing non-native species into Australia, collecting species from protected areas and trading invasive species already in Australia is illegal, Mini Beast Wildlife shop's Deanna Henderson said.
With most regulation around insects as crop pests, more regulation was needed to include the invertebrate pet trade.
Insects are good for houses with less space and are less messy and noisy pets, Ms Henderson said.
"They're also critical to our survival. So, it's interesting to learn about these animals that really support the rest of life on earth."
A Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water spokesperson said: "Australia strictly controls the international movement of wildlife specimens, including requiring permits for invertebrates to be imported for research purposes".
"Imports of invertebrates which are not on the list, or without a permit if required, is an offence under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)."