Nature is fascinating and beautiful, but can sometimes also seem terrifyingly cruel. I love nature programs, and I realize all creatures have to eat, but I really cannot stand watching a crocodile dragging down a thrashing wildebeest, or a hawk dropping on a rabbit. Killing in nature is necessary for creatures to survive, but sometimes some of their methods make me shudder.
Just imagine for a minute how it would feel to be captured, injected with a paralysing drug, and then dragged off and sealed up in a coffin. With you in the coffin are ten of your mates, all similarly paralysed. And lying next to you in the dark is an egg. It is the egg of a predator ominously waiting to hatch. When it does, you, alive and helpless will be its first meal. This is the story of the wasp and the spider – actually twelve spiders (baby wasps obviously have a big appetite).
A while ago there was a serious buzzing coming from somewhere at the back of one of the kitchen shelves where I keep various small jars and a few old wooden egg cups. I thought a fly was trapped and when I poked around at the jars something flew out in fast and furious style. Assuming it was gone for good I forgot about it, but later in the day the buzzing was there again in the exact same place. I examined the shelf contents and found a little pod attached to the base of one of the wooden egg cups. It was about an inch long, completely sealed, and appeared to be made from a sort of hard sandy material. Unfortunately I didn’t think to photograph this one.
I’ve seen pods like this before and I knew it was something to do with a wasp, but all the ones I’ve seen before have been opened and empty. Curious, I took it outside and broke it open. This was what was inside:
There were no less than eleven little spiders, and one small white wasp egg. I think the spiders were all the same type – tiny jumping spiders. I left them in the garden but sadly I expect they all died anyway. I then cleaned up the egg cup and returned it to the shelf. The next day I couldn’t believe it, Mrs Wasp was back beavering away in the back of the shelf sounding like a pneumatic drill. Cheeky sod! Prepared with my trusty flour sieve I flushed her out and caught her and popped her in a jar. It’s very difficult photographing a frenetic wasp in a jam jar so please excuse the poor shot.
After her photo shoot I let her go with strict instructions to take her nasty egg-laying habit somewhere else, and not to come back. When I pulled out the egg cups I found that she’d already constructed a new pod, but this one was not completely sealed.
When I broke the pod open just one little spider fell out and there in the shell was a new egg. I assume that Mrs Wasp must hunt down her victims one by one and reopen and then re-seal the pod each time. When she’s supplied her egg with enough bodies she makes a full seal and flies away.
Poor little spiders! But is this type of death any worse than ending up in a spider’s sticky web and thrashing around until Mrs Spider tears over, injects you with her paralysis venom, wraps you swiftly into a neat parcel and hangs you in her larder until she’s ready for dinner? There is a saying us humans use: ‘What comes around goes around’, I’m wondering if it doesn’t sometimes apply to nature? In my next life I definitely want to come back as a squirrel!