Spider wasp vs. spider: Garden epic

Yesterday I went outside to the patio to be greeted by a very large spider apparently struck dead while doing yoga. Now, this is not a normal event even by my very strange and relaxed standards, but I can swear that the arachnid looked exactly like it had bent over to touch whatever passes for toes on an eight legged freak with its pedipalps and keeled over from a heart attack in the process. I was still wondering about how the spider had learned yoga when my own morning calm was disturbed by a fairly long shape flying about my feet and knees. When I looked closely I saw the usual warning colours of orange and black which told me that the flier was either not friendly or pretending to appear not friendly. I have to add here that I have not seen this particular kind of flying insect very often here in the past. Years of dabbling in poetry and writing and living with well behaved children have certainly numbed my antennae for danger and intrigue as I completely failed to associate the strange case of the dead Spider yogi and the presence of a rarely seen large wasp like insect within two feet of each other at the same time. As I hummed at the birds, a normal event I hasten to say, my attention was completely diverted for about two minutes. Next thing I know, the insect flies in low, gets hold of a spider leg and is half flying, half scuttling away with the spider. I immediately turned my hose pipe on the two and the spider dropped as the insect flew away.

Spider 1
As I watched, my son came out and took photos of the spider and the slightly enraged flying insect which was now back and flying in little fits and starts.

Wasp 1
As we watched it working itself into a frenzy, the spider suddenly seemed to come back from the Land of Nod and began flexing its limbs. We then thought it wiser to leave things to themselves and came back in. Where the internet verified what I had already sort of guessed; we had disturbed a parasitic wasp about to lay eggs in the abdomen of a spider that she had selected in the garden and stunned with her sting. The poison had then begun wearing off and the spider was coming back from what was obviously more like a hangover than yogic calm. The internet also told us that she was a spider wasp; a parasitoid who lays an egg on or inside her prey spider whose legs she may even trim neatly, much like a housewife trussing a Christmas roast. If we hadn’t happened to be there she would have dragged the spider to her mud nest or burrow and sealed it in after egg laying. Bubba wasp would hatch and have a ready meal to go, courtesy of his loving mother.

The more I see of the garden just outside the patio doors and carpeted civilisation inside the house, the more I realise, it is a jungle out there with all kinds of skirmishes and plottings taking place in the spine filled cacti pots and the petal strewn ground below the roses.

It might be fun to remember what Darwin said about these opportunistic wasps. Their presence on the planet shook his belief in the benevolence of his Christian faith.

“I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.”

(Charles Darwin: in a letter to Asa Gray, 1860)

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