UTTARADIT, Thailand (Reuters) - A Thai man is keeping more than 4,600 scorpions as pets to atone for the years he spent cooking the arachnids to sell as snacks.
Scorpions, insects and worms are commonly eaten in Thailand, especially in the northern regions.
But after years of serving up scorpions, Suang Puangsri, a practicing Buddhist, felt it was time to befriend them instead.
"Although I was happy to have money, I felt suffering deep inside as they were being harmed by me," he told Reuters. "I felt scared that I was committing a sin."
The 38-year-old has given up the bottom floor of his two-storey home to the scorpions, who scuttle about a 6 meter by 5 meter (19 ft by 16 ft) enclosure decorated with branches and stone so that very little light and heat come in.
Suang buys up to one kg of live cicadas and other inspects daily to feed his pets, who have stung him so many times that he says he is immune to their venom.
He also spends at least an hour every day meditating inside the enclosure, often placing scorpions in his mouth.
Suang's pets have attracted a few tourists to his sleepy town of Fark Ta in the northern province of Uttaradit, and he now makes a living by selling figurines and stone carvings of ants, frogs, turtles and Buddhas.
Although the $570 he earns a month is a far cry from the $860 he made selling cooked scorpions, he and his family are content.
"I feel good about what is he doing. I didn't like it when he made the scorpions suffer. I'm not scared of those scorpions, but I don't dare touch them," said Suang's wife, Lampoon Pimtoom.
Suang is so determined to atone for his past sins that he even buys scorpions from other people who want to sell them to restaurants. When the arachnids become too many, he and his son release a few hundred back into the forest.
Suang's fixation with scorpions is unusual, but not totally unheard of in Thailand.
Earlier this year a Thai woman went into the record books for spending 33 days and nights with 5,000 live scorpions. She also held a 7-inch live scorpion in her mouth for 2 minutes and 3 seconds.