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beung (บึ้ง)

Thai general designation for giant spiders of which there are two sorts, i.e. ground spider, that live in burrows, and arboreal spiders, that dwell in trees. These large spiders, of which the  name is usually translated as tarantula’, are endemic to Thailand, as well as to some other countries of Southeast Asia. There are several different species, including the beung dam thai, i.e. Haplopelma minax (Thai Black Tarantula); the beung laai, i.e. Melopoeus albostriatus or Haplopelma albostriatum (Thai Zebra Tarantula); and the beung nahm ngeun, i.e. Haplopelma lividum (Cobalt Blue Tarantula - fig.). The name beung is frequently used for a species which is referred to by the common Thai name beung dam, which could be translated as black tarantula, yet confusingly refers to both the Haplopelma minax (beung dam thai) and the Haplopelma albostriatum (beung laai), although it has an even dark brown to black, hairy body and legs (fig.), without the beige stripes that are visible on the legs of the Thai Zebra Tarantula. In some parts of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, the giant ground spiders are hunted by the local population for food, using a long metal stick and a very narrow spade to dig the spiders out of the burrows they live in (fig.). They are considered by some to be a delicacy (fig.) and to be health beneficial. They are washed in water to clean and weaken them, after which they are fried in oil and eaten with some fried garlic (fig.). Besides this, these tarantulas are also immersed alive in rice whiskey (lao khao) and left to soak for several days, after which they drown and their poisonous venom is neutralized and dissolved in the liquor, believed by some to give the drink special vigor. Beung dam are hence sometimes referred to as edible spiders or fried spiders, and are said to have a salty sweet taste. In popular speech, beung are also called maengmoom yak (แมงมุมยักษ์), literally giant spiders. Male beung tap the ground with their feet and abdomen to announce their presence when looking for a mate, and —interestingly— in the Thai movie Nang Naak (นางนาก), it is shown how just prior to dying, a beung taps its abdomen to the surface of the wall it sits on, making a rhythmic sound with increasing tempo, until it drops dead on the floor, as if it was pronouncing its own looming death. See also WILDLIFE PICTURES.