P.S. Docket No. 7/135

December 08, 1980 

Appeal of                                                                )
MICHAEL D. JACOBSON                                         )
4340 West Ajo                                                        )
Tucson, AZ 85706                                                  )
From a Non-Mailability Ruling                                   )
re Tarantulas                                                           )  P.S. Docket No. 7/135

APPEARANCE FOR APPELLANT:                           Gerard Anderson, Esq.
                                                                                7225 N. Oracle Road
                                                                                Suite 200
                                                                                Tucson, Arizona 85704
                                                                               Thomas A. Ziebarth, Esq.
                                                                               Law Department
                                                                               U. S. Postal Service
                                                                               475 L'Enfant Plaza West SW
                                                                               Washington, D.C. 20260

Cohen, James A.


Appellant has appealed from an Initial Decision of an Administrative Law Judge holding that tarantulas are non-mailable material under 18 U.S.C. § 1716(a) and § 124.211 of the Domestic Mail Manual. Appellant contends that the findings and conclusions of the Initial Decision are not supported by a preponderance of the evidence.


This proceeding was initiated by an appeal to the Postal Service Office of Administrative Law Judges from a decision dated October 10, 1979, which was issued by the General Manager of the Special Services Division, Office of Mail Classification, United States Postal Service, holding that tarantulas are poisonous and, therefore, nonmailable. The appeal by Appellant, Michael D. Jacobson, to the Administrative Law Judges was filed on January 7, 1980.

A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge at which both parties presented evidence in support of their respective positions. On the basis of the testimony presented at that hearing and exhibits received into evidence, the assigned Administrative Law Judge issued an Initial Decision holding that tarantulas are poisonous animals within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 1716(a) and § 124.211 of the Postal Service Domestic Mail Manual (COL 1).1/ The Initial Decision pointed out that the venom of most species of tarantulas poses a minor threat to human beings but that the average Postal Service employee could not "differentiate the dangerously poison species from the not-so-dangerous" species of tarantulas (COL 1). It was also concluded in the Initial Decision that tarantulas are nonmailable material under the cited statutory and regulatory provisions because of their defensive capability to propel stinging hairs which it was found can cause intense itching, papular lesions, and acute respiratory symptoms in humans (COL 2).


Appellant's sole contention on appeal is that the Initial Decision does not give proper consideration to what it considers to be the preponderance of the evidence establishing that the Mexican Red Leg and Sonoran tarantulas sought to be mailed are harmless. Appellant argues that neither the bite of its tarantulas nor the disbursement of stinging hairs is harmful to humans. It also argues that the mailing of tarantulas should be treated no differently than the mailing of "crickets and bees."

The evidence introduced by both parties establishes that the bite of the tarantulas which Appellant intends to mail is not harmful to humans (Tr. 9, 29, 39, 42, 73, 81, 104; Resp. Ex. 4). While the evidence also establishes that these tarantulas possess modified salivary glands that produce venom, their bite, like those of most tarantulas commonly found in North and Central America, is no more severe than a mosquito bite (Tr. 71, 101). Since the bite of the tarantulas which Appellant intends to send through the mails is not harmful to humans, they are not poisonous animals which are intended to be prohibited from being mailed under 18 USCA § 1716(a)2/ as implemented by § 124.2113/ of the Domestic Mail Manual.

§ 1716. Injurious articles as nonmailable

(a) All kinds of poison, and all articles and compositions containing poison, and all poisonous animals, insects, reptiles, and all explosives, inflammable materials, infernal machines, and mechanical, chemical, or other devices or compositions which may ignite or explode, and all disease germs or scabs, and all other natural or artificial articles, compositions, or material which may kill or injure another, or injure the mails or other property, whether or not sealed as first-class matter, are nonmailable matter and shall not be conveyed in the mails or delivered from any post office or station thereof, nor by any officer or employee of the Postal Service.

Although Appellant intends to mail nonpoisonous tarantulas, there are tarantulas found primarily in South America, which are highly poisonous (Tr. 32, 40, 44, 94). There is also one report of a poisonous form of tarantula in the United States (Tr. 78). Information concerning poisonous tarantulas is limited and even trained persons might experience difficulty in differentiating between the nonpoisonous varieties of tarantulas which Appellant intends to mail and poisonous tarantulas (Tr. 31, 32, 35, 36, 42, 46, 47, 75, 77). While it is Appellant's intent to ship only nonpoisonous tarantulas, Appellant has not established that it has the capability to assure that it is in fact shipping only nonpoisonous tarantulas. Absent such assurance, it is proper to treat tarantulas as falling within the cited statutory and regulatory prohibitions.

While the foregoing discussion is dispositive of the appeal, it is appropriate to address Appellant's additional arguments since in the future it may be able to establish the procedures and the capability to assure that the tarantulas presented for mailing are nonpoisonous. Appellant's additional arguments are that the discharge of tarantula hairs, and the possibility that the tarantulas could get loose in transit, are not a proper basis for a finding of nonmailability.

The evidence establishes that tarantulas discharge hairs from their body when agitated and that these hairs can cause some itching and minor inflammation and swelling (Tr. 10, 32, 34, 95, 97). The effect of these hairs varies depending on the number which come in contact with the skin (Tr. 10, 95). Several of the witnesses have handled tarantulas. None reported any significant adverse reaction from contact with tarantula hairs (Tr. 10, 30, 39, 88). Although there is some evidence that tarantula hairs can have an effect on the respiratory system, the personal experience of the witnesses who testified did not support this position. Overall, the effect of coming into contact with tarantula hairs was described, by a Postal Service witness, as being essentially the same as an individual might experience in installing household insulation (Tr. 100). On the basis of the evidence presented, it is concluded that contact with tarantula hairs would generally result in, at worst, only a minor skin irritation.

With regard to injuries that might occur if a tarantula got loose in transit, Appellant, in effect, argues that its tarantulas are no different than other animals or insects which the Postal Service allows to be transported through the mails. The Postal Service contends that many postal workers are afraid of tarantulas on sight and, if a tarantula being transported in the mails were to get loose in the vicinity of machinery, the fear experienced by Postal Service employees could result in personal injury. A fact finding to this effect is contained in the Initial Decision.

The argument of the Postal Service would be persuasive were it not for the fact that it allows mailing of other similar type creatures. In ?? 124.293 b and c of the Domestic Mail Manual, the Postal Service permits the shipment of small, harmless cold-blooded animals such as " b aby alligators and caymans not exceeding 20 inches in length, bloodworms, earthworms, mealworms, chameleons, frogs, toads, goldfish, hellgrammites, nets, salamanders, leeches, lizards, snails and tadpoles," and insects such as bees. However, snakes are given special coverage in the regulations. In § 124.211 b of the Domestic Mail Manual all snakes are specifically prohibited from being sent through the mails, very likely because the average Postal Service employee could not distinguish between poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes.

It is clear that the average Postal Service employee could not distinguish between poisonous and nonpoisonous tarantulas. Accordingly, while it would not appear to be an unreasonable implementation of 18 U.S.C. § 1716(a) for the Postal Service to issue a regulation applicable to snakes, it has not done so. Therefore, under existing regulations, it cannot be concluded that nonpoisonous tarantulas present any greater threat to employees than other types of harmless animals and insects which are permitted to be shipped through the mails.


After consideration of the entire record and Appellant's exceptions, it is concluded that Appellant has not established that it has the capability or the procedures for assuring that it will mail only nonpoisonous tarantulas if permitted to do so. Since the mailing of poisonous animals is prohibited under 18 U.S.C. § 1716(a), as implemented by § 124.2 of the Domestic Mail Manual, the appeal is denied. Notwithstanding the foregoing, if Appellant is able to establish that it has the capability and the procedure for assuring that the tarantulas it will present for mailing are nonpoisonous, it may, in the absence of a regulation prohibiting the mailing of tarantulas, file a petition requesting that this matter be reopened and given such further consideration as the Judicial Officer may deem appropriate.

1/ "COL" refers to the Conclusions of Law in the Initial Decision.

2/ Section 1716(a) entitled "Injurious articles as nonmailable" provides:

3/ Section .211 provides

.211 Except as provided below, any article, composition or material which may kill or injure another, or injure the mail or other property, is nonmailable. Harmful matter includes, but is not limited to:

a. All kinds of poison or matter containing poison;

b. All poisonous animals, except scorpions (see 124.293d) all poisonous insects, all poisonous reptiles, and all kinds of snakes;

c. All disease germs or scabs;

d. Narcotics and other controlled substances as defined by 21 U.S.C. 801 or the regulations thereunder; and

e. All explosives, flammable material, infernal machines, and mechanical, chemical, or other devices or compositions which may ignite or explode.