The Bully in the Burrow

The Bully in the Burrow

The Tarantula Hawk Wasp (Pepsis sps) are some of the largest wasps, and have metallic blue-black coloured bodies, with orange, blue-black or mahogany coloured wings. They have a robust body and grow upto two inches in length, and are found in North and South America. 

The Tarantula Hawk Wasp (Pepsis sps) are some of the largest wasps, and have metallic blue-black coloured bodies, with orange, blue-black or mahogany coloured wings. They have a robust body and grow upto two inches in length, and are found in North and South America.

These act as predators for the venomous Tarantula spiders, as the female Hawk wasp requires a Tarantula spider to act as host for her larvae. A female wasp finds a Tarantula by smell, and expels it from its burrow and then attacks it.

Once the wasp stings the spider, the spider becomes paralyzed for life. The wasp drags it back into its own burrow, lays a single egg on the spider’s abdomen and then seals the chamber. Once the egg hatches, the tiny larva first sucks out the body fluids of the spider, and later eats its flesh, till its final moult.

Tarantula Hawk stings are very painful to humans too, but do not cause death. Tarantula spiders are the world’s largest spiders. Though their venom is weak, they prey on insects and also frogs, toads and mice.

The fields and the nearby shrub forests were lush, green and lovely, and full of activity all the time. With hardly any humans around, it was a haven for several small animals, birds, and insects, apart from some of the larger animals that grazed there. Sweet smelling grass, a few fruit trees and flowers brimming with cups of nectar kept them happy and contented.

But all creatures, big and small alike, were wary of one particular spot in the field, and avoided it as much as they could, for there lived a fearsome hunter, who preyed ruthlessly on them. The insects could not always escape, as they were easier to catch, and they ended up becoming a meal.

But the mice, lizards and birds were equally in danger. The squirrels and mice warned their young ones not to go near the dangerous burrow, and the lizards and frogs kept an eye open for suspicious shadows that followed them. Yet, a few naïve ones did end up becoming dinner for the fearsome beast, who lay in wait for them— sometimes in his burrow, and sometimes elsewhere.

The beast was not very big himself— just the size of a dinner plate— yet, his sheer size and his eight hairy legs unnerved the bravest of the brave. Even the bigger animals avoided an encounter with the bully, for, his bite could be excruciatingly painful. Every creature skedaddled at the very mention of his name— “The Terrible Tarantula”.

The Tarantula spider enjoyed his status as the bully of the fields. He liked to be left alone, but also to be feared. His favourite line was “I don’t fear anyone. Everyone else must fear me!” He felt that he had chosen the right spot for a burrow, because the bountiful fields kept attracting fresh prey which were blissfully ignorant of his existence.

The other animals and birds which had already made their home there did not dare to warn any newcomers out of fear. The path to his burrow was thus a deserted one, and the creatures living nearby made sure they did not get in his way. So it was quite a surprise one day when everyone found a lone wasp making its way down the path to the Tarantula’s burrow.

A bluebird, who was seated on a branch and watching from above, tut-tutted in sympathy. “She’s the next victim, poor thing!” A lizard, mounted on a tall blade of grass nearby watched her go in wonder. “Is she mad?” he thought. “She’s walking right into his mouth!”

A she-mouse, who had her own little burrow at a safe distance nearby, peeked out carefully. “That’s a wasp”, she remarked. “And looks like she’s going to be a mother soon too!” “How do you know she’s a wasp, Mummy?” asked one of the baby mice. “And how do you know she’s going to be a mother?”
“Hold your tongue, little Tim!” the she-mouse snapped back. “That’s enough from you!”

“But I was just asking you a question!” little Tim whimpered. “If you don’t keep quiet, I’ll throw you into the Tarantula’s burrow myself! He’s very fond of disobedient kids”, the mother threatened.Little Tim immediately pursed up his mouth. HE didn’t want to be eaten by a large ugly spider, and he didn’t want to know any more about any wasp, either!

“A suicide case, probably”, remarked the she-mouse’s husband, who hadn’t even glanced up from the bit of corn that he was chewing. “Decided she’s got enough of life and too scared of water to jump into a pool.”

“Oh, don’t talk nonsense!”cried the she-mouse. “Poor thing, I wish I could warn her. But if I do, that horrible creature might come after my kids instead!”

So, while the entire field watched, the wasp made her way to the burrow, unmindful of the pitiful stares and hushed voices. Only a wise old owl, who peeped out hearing all the commotion outside, chuckled to himself. “Ah, she seems like a smart hawk”, he observed. “We might get rid of the bully after all!”

“What are you saying, grandfather?” asked a young owl, who had braved the sunlight to sit outside his hollow to watch the spectacle. “The wasp is quite small in size compared to the spider! The Tarantula will overpower her soon!”

“Ah, size is just an illusion, my child”, grinned the old grandfather owl. “She’s a Tarantula Hawk wasp, and just watch what she’s going to do!”

The wasp reached the entrance of the burrow. The Tarantula could sense her presence outside. He smacked his lips. “My dinner has walked into my parlour so fearlessly, eh?” He stepped out in all his glory, spreading his eight legs to appear gigantic, and baring his fangs to strike fear into his victim. But the sight of the wasp’s orange wings shot the first dart of fear into him. Such bright colours on an insect like this only meant one thing: danger.

The wasp also seemed strangely confident of herself, as she stood in front of him, unmoving, with a sly smile on her face. Yet, bully that he was, he could not afford to appear a coward in front of the entire field watching them in silence.

“You dare to mock me?” the spider asked in a threatening tone. “Surrender and I’ll give you a painless death!”

“Death is what I will give you, spider”, said the wasp coolly. “But I assure you, it is going to be very, very slow and painful. Run away, or fight me if you can.”

The spider needed no more motivation. He attacked, trying to bite the wasp. But surprisingly, the wasp countered his every move. All the birds, insects and other animals were now watching the duel with great interest and trepidation. The she-mouse covered her eyes.

“Oohh, I can’t watch”, she moaned. “She will be killed!” But her husband and the baby mice were all watching open-mouthed. The fight escalated to frenzied levels. The Tarantula was puzzled, angry and tired. He had never had to duel so long to defeat an enemy.

He had a hard time protecting his huge frame from the wasp’s stinger, which she thrust at him now and then. He was wearing out, and it wasn’t long before the wasp managed to find her mark. “Mummy, look!” cried Little Tim excitedly. “She’s stung the Tarantula!”

The entire gathering watched in amazement as the mighty Tarantula curled up, not dead, but paralyzed in pain. “I’m sorry, spider”, the wasp whispered into his ear. “But you’re going to be the dinner for my baby.”

She dragged him back into his own burrow, laid her egg on top of him, and buried him alive there. As she left an audience gasping in shock, the wise old owl cackled. “That’s the only foe that a Tarantula spider need fear”, he said. “And that’s a female Tarantula Hawk Wasp!”

By: Sneha Verghese
(A research scholar in Journalism at Osmania University, Hyderabad. Also a post-graduate in biotechnology, she loves teaching and writing stories for kids to explain scientific concepts.)

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