Tarantulas Are Nicaragua’s New Crash Crop

His corn and bean fields ravaged by drought, Nicaraguan farmer Leonel Sanchez Hernandez grudgingly found a new harvest: tarantulas.

He gets a little over a dollar for each of the hairy critters, which breeders sell overseas as pets.

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His take may not be much, but in Nicaragua, a dollar buys a kilo of rice or a liter (quart) of milk. And in just two weeks, Sanchez Hernandez, his aunt Sonia and cousin Juan caught more than 400 of the spiders.

The hunt is playing out in northern Nicaragua, which suffered severe drought from May to September. Sanchez Hernandez’s fields were a total loss.

The 27-year-old was skittish at first about poking around in underground nests, under rocks and in tree trunks in search of the feisty arachnids.

But he donned thick gloves and mustered up the courage, because the alternative was to see his family go hungry.

“It is the first time we have gone out to look for tarantulas. We were a bit afraid, but we sucked it up and did it because of the drought,” he told AFP.

Sanchez Hernandez has a wife and four kids to feed. His aunt is not well off, either — she is a single mother of five children, and was also hit hard by the drought.

Their loot secured, the pair traveled more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) to the outskirts of the capital Managua.

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There, they handed the tarantulas over to Exotic Fauna, a firm that started this month to breed the spiders for export.

With approval from the country’s environment ministry, the company is hard at work, setting up glass cases with sawdust beds as part of a project to breed 7,000 tarantulas.

“We plan to sell them at a price even higher than that of boas,” which go for up to $8 apiece, said Exotic Fauna owner Eduardo Lacayo.

Lacayo has invested more than $6,000 in the business. He got the money… from selling turtles.

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