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Cambodia -- a country in southeast Asia bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam -- is home to multiple species of spiders. Some of them rank among the world's largest and most aggressive. Others are fried as a culinary delicacy in a handful of villages.
Given its tropical climate, Cambodia is home to interesting and rather large Old World spiders. Although Michael Freeman's travel book "Cambodia" only delves into the tarantulas eaten in some villages -- there are plenty of videos on Youtube if you want to see -- other travel writers like Richard Seaman have documented the country's colorful jumping spiders and lynx spiders, too. Hunting spiders and wolf spiders are also present in abundant numbers and help control the insect population around rice fields, according to the Journal of Asia-Pacific Entomology.
Species and Diversity in Southeast Asia
There are some 44,000 species of spiders worldwide, according to the American Museum of Natural History. Most southeast Asian countries have a couple of hundred species, although the exact number in Cambodia isn't well established. In a paper published in 2002, researchers from Hebei University and the National University of Singapore note that the spider faunas in Brunei, Cambodia and Laos remain "almost completely unknown." In Thailand and Vietnam -- countries to the west and east of Cambodia -- there are 156 and 230 spider species, respectively, among the lowest in the region. Cambodia's topography, climate range and flora diversity is similar enough to its neighbors that comparisons may be merited.
Cambodian Species of Note
One of the most conspicuous spiders in Cambodia is those in the Haplopelma genus. These are hand-sized tarantulas that bear a striking resemblance to those depicted in American Halloween decorations. Unlike their North and South American counterparts, their hairs are not irritants, they can be jumpy or outright aggressive, and their bites can be venomous enough that you should probably see a doctor.
Cambodian rice paddy fields -- a staple in Cambodian food economy -- are home to a pair of abundant spiders of note: Araneus inustus and Pardosa pseudoannulata. These species eat brown planthoppers, one of the biggest regional threats to the food supply. The authors of a 2001 study suggest these spiders act as the primary population controllers of these insects.
In some Cambodian villages -- most famously Skuon -- people catch, deep-fry and eat tarantulas, specifically Thai zebra tarantulas (Haplopelma albostriatum). This custom dates back to food scarcity when Cambodia was the Khmer Empire. Today, spider eating is both part of the local culture and countrywide tourism market. Spiders taste "slightly sweet, garlicky and crunchy ... (and) really do resemble soft-shelled crabs," according to travel writer Michael Freeman. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists no information about spider eating in the food-safety section of its primer on travel in Cambodia. If you're in the mood to try a Cambodian fried spider, it may be wise to get one sooner rather than later: The growing unregulated spider trade is unsustainable, according to research from the University of Copenhagen.
- American Museum of Natural History: The World Spider Catalog, Version 14.0
- Michael Freeman: Cambodia
- Goshen College: Siem Reap III -- Skuon (Spider Village)
- The Sunday Telegraph: Tuck in to a Tarantula
- The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology: A Checklist of Spiders (Arachnida: Araneae) From Pennisular Malaysia Inclusive of Twenty New Records
- The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology: A Checklist of Spiders From Singapore (Arachnida: Araneae)
- Journal of Asia-Pacific Entomology: Effectiveness of Brown Planthooper Predators
- Richard-Seaman.com: Wildlife of Cambodia
- University of Copenhagen: The Market for Edible Tarantulas and Crickets in Cambodia
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Health Informatin for Travelers to Cambodia
- Venomous, Poisonous, Dangerous, and Other Wonders: Asia's Most Venemous Spiders
- BBC: Cambodia Profile
- Jonathan Reiskind: The Taxonomic Problem of Sexual Dimorphism in Spiders and a Synonymy in Myrmecotypus (Araneae Clubionidae)
- Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images