The wasp and the spider, Baysville

The strength and resilience of some of nature’s smaller creatures is well documented in a photographic and video record submitted by Johan Koekemoer of East London. Last year he witnessed a wasp carrying a paralysed spider for 14 meters to a nest across an incredible man-made and natural obstacle course. His story begins in the suburb of Baysville when he noticed the wasp attack a spider on a palette of bricks at a building site.

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The species of wasp belongs to the family Pompilidae (well represented in Africa) – recognised by their long hind legs, curled antennae and smoky wings.

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They are often seen moving along the ground at great speed, vibrating their wings and antennae as they search for spiders (only the female seeks out spiders). This wasp has caught a common rain spider (Palystes superciliosus) of the family Sparassidae. These spiders are  ground living and can grow to a size greater than 30 mm (illustrated above).

After paralysing the spider (sometimes stinging it in the front of the head – helping to paralyse the fangs) the wasp normally cleans itself before moving off with the prey item to her nest. In this instance the nest was beyond the wall (illustrated below) over which she had to drag the spider.

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The climb to the top of the wall was more 2.3 meters! This amazing feat was achieved with a dedicated pace by the wasp using an amazing climbing technique, combining back and front legs in a coordinated fashion to keep the climb steady.

The wasp still had to drag the spider across the top of the wall (250 mm) before descending on the other side.

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The climb down was another massive act of strength and perfect coordination again on the part of the wasp.

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After having negotiated the wall the journey to the nest was an equal challenge through rough grass for another 9 m! The nest site was under a trampoline set back and on the other side of the wall.

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Part of the route also included climbing over a cut tree stump …….. .

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After a 40 minute journey, well documented by Johan, the wasp reached the nest burrow underneath the trampoline illustrated below. In total the wasp dragged the spider for 14 meters from the kill zone to the nest!!

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The museum thanks Johan Koekemoer for this amazing story and we hope it encourages others to be vigilant of the ‘happenings’ around our feet in suburbia.

Kevin Cole ELM

Photo credits: Johan Koekemoer

Spider identification: Astri Leroy (Spider Club of South Africa)

References: Southern African Spiders – An Identification Guide by Martin R. Filmer

Spiders of southern Africa by Astri and John Leroy

African Insect Life by S. H. Skaife

About East London Museum Science

Conservation Biologist East London Museum South Africa
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