The Grim Connection Between Cambodia's Fried Tarantulas And Dictator Pol Pot

The thought of having to interact with bugs in any scenario is a fear that can wrap itself tightly around any one of us. Whether it's a circling moth, a biting ant, or an attacking wasp, insects and creepy crawlies are commonly despised by many of us.

Any consideration of eating a bug should therefore be confined to the very back of our minds — locked away alongside the thoughts of ordering everything on a takeout menu or buying a tenth cocktail. However, bugs are seen as useful sources of protein and fiber, and require much less food and land to rear than traditional livestock, reports USA Today. For these reasons, insect snacks may soon become more common.

Promoting such a dramatic change in dietary habits still has some way to go, but in Cambodia eating certain tiny creatures is a long-established tradition — especially spiders (tarantulas, to be precise). However, the country's seemingly quirky culinary choice was once used as a desperate strategy to stave off starvation.

Cambodians ate spiders to prevent starvation

Eating tarantulas is seen as a bizarre habit by many, but in Cambodia, the arachnids are a delicacy. The spiders are fried whole in a mixture of spices, with females being particularly sought after because their eggs provide an additional flavor sensation, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Tarantulas also contain the nutritional benefits of protein, zinc, and folic acid, details The Washington Post.

Tarantulas were therefore especially useful during the brutal reign of dictator Pol Pot in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Up to two million Cambodians are estimated to have died during those four years, reveals History, including many from starvation. Tarantulas were abundant in the country, so locals were forced to eat them as a consequence of increased famine. They were harvested by lighting fires to send them underground, from which they would later emerge and be caught once the flames had been extinguished, details DW.

Tarantulas weren't the only unusual food that Cambodians ate during Pol Pot's totalitarian leadership. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, famished residents also resorted to eating lizards, including geckos, in desperate attempts to prevent hunger. History notes that Pol Pot's political party — the Khmer Rouge — eventually collapsed following a ceasefire agreement in 1991.