Insects

Spider-Hunting Wasp Caught Killing Australia's Most Dangerous Spider

09/13/2012

Wasp
Photo: Florian and Peter Irwin via newswise

A tiny wasp, largely ignored by researchers for nearly 250 years, has been discovered to be a vicious hunter of Australia's most dangerous spider, according to MSNBC.

The wasp, Agenioideus nigricornis, was first identified in 1775 after being collected during an expedition by famed explorer Captain James Cook. Since then, though, researchers have turned a blind eye to the small insect, believing it to be an ordinary bug. Boy, were they wrong.

It turns out the wasp is a ninja-like predator of the redback spider-- an arachnid related to North America's black widow that is responsible for more than 250 life-threatening bites each year.

These wasps have been dragging away redback spider carcasses under the noses of researchers for over two centuries. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that a 9 year old boy first caught sight of one of these assassins in action.

The curious young boy, Florian Irwin, a resident of Beaconsfield, Western Australia, immediately notified his father of what he saw. Luckily, his father, Peter Irwin, was a lecturer of veterinary medicine at Murdoch University, and he had his camera ready.

As it happens, the wasp doesn't actually hunt the spiders for food. Instead, it lays its eggs inside the spiders' paralyzed bodies. After the larvae hatch, they slowly devour the deadly arachnids from the inside out. In other words, the spiders are actually depositories for the wasp's offspring. You might say the wasps are as Alien-like as they are ninja-like.

The wasp has also finally been given a common name: the redback spider-hunting wasp.

"We're very excited by this discovery, which has prompted us to study this species of wasp more closely," said Andy Austin, a researcher at Australia's University of Adelaide. "It's the first record of a wasp preying on redback spiders, and it contributes greatly to our understanding of how these wasps behave in Australia."

By Bryan Nelson


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