Nature is not a friendly place. Life is often nasty, brutish, and short, and death is no picnic either. There are some truly sadistic ways animals have dreamed up to dispatch and consume each other. Most fish swallow each other whole, leaving the prey to suffocate in a sack of stomach acid. Spiders immobilize their prey in webs and make them hang there, helpless and dreading, until they decide to liquefy them from the inside. But even spiders deserve some pity for what can befall them.
Pictured above is a tarantula hawk wasp. The unfortunate critter nearby is a tarantula. The spider has been stung and paralyzed by the wasp, and can’t move much more than a groggy twitch. The wasp is currently excavating a burrow in which she will drag the tarantula, safe from the prying snout of a passing coati or bird.
Once her victim is interred, she will lay some eggs on it. Within a month, the eggs will hatch into larvae, which will begin to feed. On the spider. Which is still alive and conscious.
See, spiders have a very slow metabolism and can go without eating for months if they do not expend energy. A paralyzed tarantula will remain living throughout the entire ordeal, stuffed in the dark and then eaten alive by grubs, a horrific child-support present from mom.
This event unfolded out in the open lawn between the dorms, just after I finished giving a lecture to a visiting high school group. At first, all I saw was the wasp, which is known for one of the most painful nonlethal stings out there, and told the kids to avoid the area. Then I saw the catatonic spider, and noticed the wasp was digging a hole. So I then explained the process to an audience of students whose reactions ranged from disinterest to perverse fascination to blanching disgust. I empathize with the latter two. But some even expressed pity. I guess this is what it takes to get people to feel bad for a giant spider.