Doing Dumb Stuff With Animals Top 10 Countdown, #7: Toying With Tarantula Wasps

Photo by Ben Conniff

The following is part of a top ten list written originally for The Times (London) by Richard Conniff from his new book Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time: My Life Doing Dumb Stuff with Animals (W.W. Norton).

Fortunately, I didn’t yet know Schmidt the time I spent a week with a BBC film crew trying to observe a big, metallic blue pepsis wasp sting a tarantula. In these wasps, the macabre reproductive strategy is for the female to hunt down a tarantula, inject a paralyzing venom into its abdomen, and then bury the spider with a single egg deposited on its back. When the wasp larva hatches several days later, it eats the paralyzed tarantula alive. Getting this to happen on camera turned out to be a nightmare, but not nearly so bad as it could have been, given how often we were handling these wasps.

"If you get stung by one," Schmidt told me later, "you might as well lie down and just scream. The good news is that by three minutes, it's gone. If you really use your imagination you can get it to last five minutes. But that's it, you get on with your life.“