Cambodia's Supply of Fried Tarantulas Is Under Threat

The arachnids, a popular street snack in Cambodia, are facing modern perils such as deforestation and overhunting.

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Apr 9 2018, 4:40pm

Photo via Flickr user letsbook

On the second season of his show Gordon’s Great Escape, professional shouter Gordon Ramsay tried deep-fried tarantula, a snack popular in the area of Cambodia that he was visiting. After pulling one from a pan of hot oil, Ramsey successfully swallowed the arachnid’s legs, but tried and failed to eat its abdomen. “Can I just say I prefer the legs?” he said, just after spitting half-chewed spider parts in the dirt. Gotta love white people respectfully enjoying global cuisine!

Although they’re more appreciated by locals, fried tarantulas—which have also become a common must-have Instagram shot for tourists—might not be on the menu much longer. According to Agence France-Presse, deforestation and development have shrunk the arachnids’ habitats, and the incessant demand from tourists means that the remaining tarantulas are being caught at an almost unsustainable rate. “A-ping are famous in Cambodia but now they are not abundant, they have become rare,” Chea Voeun, an insect vendor in a town known as “Spiderville,” told AFP. A decade ago, an edible tarantula cost less than a dime, but now the price-per-arachnid is closer to a dollar.

Some believe that the practice of eating tarantulas—known locally as a-ping—began out of necessity under Pol Pot’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime: Thousands of starving Cambodians discovered that tarantulas were plentiful, easy to catch, and equally easy to cook.

Photo via Flickr user Adam Cohn

The summer is typically the busiest season for both insects and tourists, so vendors might be challenged to meet the demand. Business Insider reported that, last June, tarantula hunters could catch up to 150 of them per day—and each vendor might sell 100 every day. (“There are two ways to get the spider out of its burrow,” one spider hunter told The Telegraph. “Usually we just dig them out, but it is also possible to push a stick down the hole and wait until the spider attacks. Then you pull it out.")

If you’re traveling through Skun—the aforementioned Spiderville—and are tempted to try one, stick to the legs, which supposedly have a mild flavor and a satisfying crunch. The head and body have been described as tasting vaguely crab-like, but the abdomen is often described as a little ball of nightmares. “This is the only really disturbing part of the animal,” The Telegraph wrote. “It's full of a dark brown paste that includes everything from eggs to the heart and spider excrement.”

According to the AFP, no country is being deforested faster than Cambodia: 20 percent of its forests have disappeared since 1990, which means, if you do want a mouthful of spider guts, you should probably get there soon.

“The next generations may not know about them because these beasts have become so rare, not like before,” another vendor said. “As more people clear [forests] to plant cashew nut trees, they will be gone.”