If ever a member of Kingdom Animalia was in need of a massive rebranding campaign, it’s the spider wasp (Family Pompilidae). As a first order of a business, a name change might be overdue, as its current moniker is pretty much an abridged list of mankind’s most common phobias. What’s its middle name – airplane crash?
Sure, not everyone can go by the name ‘Yorkshire Terrier’ or ‘Creme D’Argent’ (a breed of fancy show rabbits). But as Professor E. Jerome McCarthy of Harvard Business School described in the early 1960s, there are Four P’s in marketing: Product, Price, Place, and Please Don’t Call It A Spider Wasp.
Who wants to see a picture of a spider wasp? Nobody.
But even if a massive relaunch of the spider wasp with a friendlier name (e.g. ‘Cupcake Bug’) allowed it to finally make some friends, it’s doubtful it would keep those friends after they got to know the cupcake bug. This is because, whatever its name, the worst thing about the spider wasp is that it’s a spider wasp. That is to say, the scientifically-verified day-to-day activities of this loathsome creature far exceed any possible expectation, and even were we to call it a cupcake bug, we’d probably eventually start calling it a spider wasp behind it’s back. Even if it changed its named to Free iPod Wasp it would still be worth stepping on, headphones and all.
A disclaimer: if you’re easily disgusted, it’s not too late to visit this site instead:
Alright then. Let’s do this.
On we go. The female spider wasp spends its day hunting around the bases of trees for spiders. When it spots one, it descends from the skies, thrusts its stinger into the spider and injects it with a painful, paralyzing venom that renders the spider’s years of Tae Kwon Do training useless.
Of course, this seems like it should, by all accounts, be the end of the story. And it would if the spider were dead now. Alas, this is just the beginning for this poor creature that never thought its first trip to Makeout Point would be its last.
Don’t worry, it gets way worse.
With its prey alive and conscious but unable to move, the spider wasp drags the spider along the ground and tosses it into a pre-fabricated burrow*. There, it lays a single egg on the spider’s abdomen and leaves. And there the spider stays, paralyzed, alone in the dark, with a veiny, pulsing wasp egg glued to its stomach. But it’s not what you think though – it’s actually really unpleasant for the spider.
About now, you’ve probably figured out where this horror story is headed. But, being a well-trained moviegoer, you still might hold out hope for the spider. And being a well-trained moviegoer, you know this is false hope. And still, you can’t look away.
Seriously, what’s wrong with you?
You can guess the rest: the wasp larva hatches and slowly begins to feed on the paralyzed spider’s insides — leaving its vital organs for last, in an instinctively cruel effort to keep the spider alive as long as possible to ensure what its eating is fresh. Because spider wasps have surprisingly sensitive stomachs? No, because spider wasps have surprisingly absent souls.
Here. To get that last image out of your head.
The spider eventually dies and the baby wasp feasts some more before spinning a cocoon in what remains of the spider’s body. It emerges the following summer and heads out into the sunlight to work on the sequel, though it’s been seen having lunch with M. Night Shyamalan so don’t hold your breath.
*In a truly sociopathic display of sadism, many spider wasp species make the spider watch as they build a burrow. Whoa.
**Which really makes one wonder why, in 1989, another member of the family Pompilidae (i.e. a spider wasp called the ‘Tarantula Hawk’ who has a similar M.O.) was named the Official State Insect of New Mexico. We’re not making this stuff up. Nor are we making up that U.S. state legislatures vote on ‘official insects.’ Elections matter, everyone. So when you’re selecting a candidate, please do find out their positions on spider wasps first.