05 Sep

When the Predator Becomes the Prey

The Tarantula Hawk

Tarantulas are the big, hairy, eight-legged tanks of the bug world. They are roughly the size of your dinner plate and come equipped with a set of powerful fangs. Tarantulas stalk their prey. They leave the comfort of their burrows at night, to begin looking for dinner. Insects, other spiders and even mice are on its menu. Yet even something as large as the tarantula has an enemy. If you think it’s something bigger and meaner, you’d only be half right. It is meaner.

Spider Hunter
Though smaller than the tarantula, the tarantula hawk wasp is on an important mission to hunt down tarantulas. It is dedicated enough to descend into the arachnids lair and try to draw it out. If you were the size of the tarantula hawk and tasked with the job of taking down a behemoth spider, you would want a good weapon. The wasp has just that; it packs a potent stinger that is nearly the length of a dime. But size isn’t everything; the wasp stinger contains venom powerful enough to put the big arachnid to sleep, forever. Though the tarantula hawk doesn’t ordinarily sting people, if you decide to provoke or crush it, it will come after you.

Don’t Anger the Spider Killer
Their sting has been categorized as the most painful in America. If you invoke the wrath of the wasp, you’ll be in for the longest three minutes of your life. An entomologist who experienced the sting first hand described the ordeal as, “immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations.”

The Bitter Battle
Even thus armed, the wasp doesn’t have a guaranteed win. A desperate battle ensues and sometimes neither contender is the champion. In order for the wasp to be victorious, it has to avoid the tarantula’s fangs and deliver a sting to the unprotected underbody. The tarantula wasp will attempt to do this by flipping the spider, or dashing underneath with its weapon ready.

Gruesome Demise
Why the battle? You might be wondering why the wasp hunts the tarantula in the first place, especially when there could be easier prey. To further add to your confusion, the tarantula wasp only eats nectar from plants and flowers; it doesn’t ever consume the giant spider; it does something far worse. Once the wasp is able to sting the spider and the tarantula is paralyzed, the wasp drags the spider back to its nest. There the wasp lays an egg on the tarantula, leaves, and seals the opening. The egg hatches, and the wasp larva consumes the paralyzed arachnid one bite at a time. All while the big spider is still alive.

When the Predator Become the Prey
In the dog-eat-dog, or bug-eat-bug world of insects, not even the tarantula hawk is safe. The wasp’s metallic coloring may be a warning to potential predators indicating danger, but there are still creatures that love to eat the spider-killing wasp.

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