For an arachnophobe like myself, a battle to the death between a large huntsman spider and a wasp would normally see me scurrying a safe distance away.
But the scene was playing out in the sand about 50 cm from where I was waiting for a great-billed heron to re-emerge from the mangroves near my house in North Queensland. So I toughed it out.
I found out later that the distinctive orange-and-black spider wasp of Australia specialises in paralysing arachnids of all shapes and sizes and uses them as live hosts to incubate their larvae.
Huntsman and wolf spiders seem to be special favourites, and these large wasps generally win the battle – administering a paralysing sting and dragging the hapless but still live spider away for later consumption.
A single egg will be laid inside the spider’s abdomen and once hatched, the larva eats the spider from the inside out. The vital organs of the poor old huntsman are consumed last so it stays alive to the very end, providing the freshest possible meal.
The big female spider wasp is the one that always does the damage. Her hind-legs are long and have two prominent spurs, which apparently aid in dragging large victims back to their mud nest.
When my own ‘prey’ emerged from the mangroves, the heron spotted me immediately and hoisted its heavy frame into the sky. So I took a couple of shots of the proceedings to my left and scarpered before the wasp had worked out how to get the huntsman out of the hollow they were in.
©Natural Images 2017