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The Spider: Predator or Prey?

We generally think of spiders as top-of-the-line predators, but this Moment of Science reveals a case when the spider definitely comes out on the short end of the predator stick.

Spiders are often thought of as one of the creepiest, cruelest creatures around. There are numerous horror films that cast spiders as the monsters. For some, fears might involve the web and how the spider meticulously entombs its prey before it feasts on it. However, there are insects that probably give spiders nightmares: wasps.

A female wasp stings a spider in her own web, temporarily paralyzing her. Then the wasp lays an egg on the spider’s abdomen. The paralysis wears off, and the spider gets up and goes about her business as usual. But this isn’t the end of the story. The egg on her abdomen hatches, and the larva sucks the spider’s body fluid. The spider still continues spinning her web like normal.

When the larva is about ready to construct its cocoon it injects the spider with a chemical that causes it to spin a twisted tent instead of its regular web. Finally, the wasp larva kills the spider, devours it, and then suspends its cocoon in the shelter of the tent the spider constructed.

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