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Tarantula kebab anyone?

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Willow Murton Willow Murton | 09:20 UK time, Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Not many people would go for a toasted tarantula as a snack, let alone the famous Goliath bird-eater spider found in the jungles of South America. This record-defying arachnid is said to be the largest spider in the world and can reach up to the size of a dinner plate, though it is perhaps the most unlikely addition to any menu.

The thought of spiders is enough to have many people shivering in fear. The sight of their hairy legs and fangs doesn’t exactly whet the appetite. I personally have nothing against spiders. Not that I would seek out their company as pets or roommates, but as a vegetarian, directing this sequence for the BBC One series Human Planet, I was pretty sure that seeing a spider as a snack wasn't going to break my non-meat eating resolve:

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The most extraordinary thing about the filming wasn't the oversized arachnids; rather it was the young spider hunters that we were filming with. Orlando was a small boy, from the Piaroa tribe of southern Venezuela. He had a cheeky smile and a particular talent for tarantula trapping. He explained that when there is little food about, a spider is a welcome bite to eat. The tarantulas themselves have an impressive set of fangs that are best admired from a distance, but they are not venomous - though they can bite.

What Orlando and his friends worry about are the irritating little hairs that an angry spider kicks out in defence from its rear. To be an expert spider hunter, the trick is to lure out the little beast by twiddling a stick down the hole where they hide out in the daytime. As soon as the tarantula is out, Orlando quickly pins it down so that its long hairy legs cannot do any damage. Now that it is unable to move, Orlando wraps it in a leaf and ties it up with a vine. This is dining al fresco in the extreme.

Gathered about a makeshift fire, Orlando and his friends first kill the spiders by a sharp tap to their bodies. They then remove the rear end where the irritating hairs can be found and using branches, the tarantulas quickly become kebabs. Before eating the spider, like a true gourmand, Orlando brings out a little seasoning. Pulling off the legs, he dips them into chilli and salt which he serves from a leaf.

Despite the name, once the legs are gone, there is not much meat on a Goliath bird-eater tarantula. But every edible piece is happily consumed and the fangs are even used as tooth picks by some. No opportunity for a quick jungle snack is wasted by Orlando and his friends, however hairy.

It’s been said that eating insects makes good sense for the environment and arguably we all eat spiders while we’re sleeping anyway, but would you try these tarantulas?

Discover amazing human stories from around the world through television and radio clips from BBC programmes with the Human Planet Explorer.

Willow Murton is an Assistant Producer for Human Planet.

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