Cambodia's tarantula hunters

Eating spiders became widespread in the 1970s amid starvation brought on by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.


Svay Leur, Cambodia - Deep in the jungle, Rith spends hours each day hunting tarantulas, which he sells to restaurants near Siem Reap, home of the world-famous Angkor Wat temple.

Rith receives 500 riels (12 cents) from local customers for each hairy spider.

Far from being a new phenomenon, hunting spiders for food and for traditional medicine has taken place in Cambodia for generations. However, eating spiders became widespread in the mid-1970s, when starvation brought on by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime left people with little other options for survival. 

Starvation, along with executions and overwork, resulted in the death of about two million people from 1975-79.

Despite this grim history, spiders are considered to be a delicacy today and sold in markets and restaurants across Cambodia.

While tarantulas are reportedly eaten in Thailand, Papua New Guinea, and parts of India and Venezuela, their widespread popularity in Cambodia is unique. In addition to being rich in protein, folic acid and zinc, they are believed to have medicinal properties.

However, heavy deforestation throughout the country may mean an end to this practice - and tarantulas themselves.