Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

The Tarantula Hunters of Cambodia

For some, they are the stuff of nightmares. For others, they're dinner. Around the small market town of Skuon in Cambodia, men and boys as young as five head into the jungle to hunt for an unusual prey - the Thai zebra tarantula. For generations, locals have dug the palm-sized spiders from their burrows to eat or use as a traditional cure for breathing disorders and backache. Now some environmental groups fear increasing demand and rampant deforestation are putting the species at risk. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

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    A tarantula sits on a boy's Cambodian soccer jersey in Skuon, Kampong Cham province, Cambodia. While Haplopelma albostriatum has been used for centuries in traditional medicine, it became a vital source of food for locals during the famine brought on by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.

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    Sin Visal, 17, right, and Sin Songha, 8, search for spiders in the forests of Svay district in neighboring Kampong Thom province. Cambodia has lost more than half its natural forest since the 1970s and illegal logging continues to strip the country of trees at one of the fastest rates in the world, according to a 2015 report by U.K.-based environmental and human rights group Global Witness.

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    Tarantula hunters look for spider burrows like this one in the grass in the Svay district of Kampong Thom. The eight-legged beasts are generally nocturnal, so they can usually be found at home during the day.

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    Sin Visal digs out a spider hole to reveal a prize specimen. The Thai zebra tarantula gets its name from the white stripes on its legs. Unlike its cousins in the Americas, which can spray tiny barbed hairs from their abdomen as a kind of spider pepper spray, old-world tarantulas can only flee or bite when attacked.

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    Sin Visal shows off some spiders he caught in the jungle near his home in Kampong Thom province. Hunters often remove the tarantulas' fangs after they're caught to prevent bites. The venom of the Thai zebra tarantula isn't deadly, but can be extremely painful.

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    Grilled, fried or barbecued on a stick, tarantula is a good source of protein, folic acid and zinc for the families who hunt them, making them an excellent supplement for growing kids.

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    Sin Songha enjoys some cooked spiders at his home in the Svay district of Kampong Thom province. No crispy snack is complete in Cambodia without a little chili sauce.

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    A vendor at a spider market in Skuon, Kampong Cham province, adds some marketing to his attire. As the epicenter of the region's tarantula trade, Skuon is known by many Cambodians as Spider Town.

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    Seasoning is added to a bowl of eight-legged snacks in Skuon. Spider hunters bring their offerings to the market here, a one-and-a-half hour drive north of the capital Phnom Penh, to sell them to local food vendors.

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    Skuon is becoming increasingly popular with tourists, who arrive on local buses to pose with the creepy crawlies and sample the culinary delights. The trade got a boost from celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, who captured and cooked the beasts in an expletive-filled episode of Gordon's Great Escape in 2011.

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    At her home in Skuon, Sron Sovan serves up a plate of fried spiders. The hairy beasts have long been used in traditional healing and have been credited with curing backache and breathing problems, having aphrodisiac properties and even making women more beautiful.

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    Cambodian riel notes change hands at a spider market in Skuon. Appetizing arachnids sell for about 25 U.S. cents apiece, a substantial sum in a country where more than half the population lives on less than $2 a day.

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    A vendor in Skuon displays a tempting pile of crispy invertebrates. A good tarantula hunter can dig up as many as 100 spiders a day to sell in the market.

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    A woman carries bags of live spiders toward a vehicle outside a spider marker in Skuon. As well as making a nutritious snack, tarantulas are also marinated in rice wine for use as a medicinal tonic.

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    Yum!