Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A wasp dragging a spider

with 29 comments

Along the Muir Lake Trail in Cedar Park on July 3rd I noticed a colorful and energetic wasp dragging a spider that it had immobilized. When I stepped closer to try to take a photograph the wasp went away, but I took a stance at a medium distance from the spider and waited for the wasp to return. It came and went several times, continuing with its task each time, and I managed to get some sharply focused pictures in spite of the frequent movement.

UPDATE: Thanks to John S. Ascher at BugGuide.net, I can now say this predator appears to be Tachypompilus ferrugineus, known as the rusty spider wasp, red-tailed spider hunter, or red-tailed spider wasp.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 23, 2017 at 4:45 AM

29 Responses

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  1. Nice detail! It is fun to look for closeup subjects like this.

    Reed Andariese

    July 23, 2017 at 7:49 AM

    • It is. I can’t remember now, but most likely the movement on the leaves allowed me to notice this duo.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 23, 2017 at 8:27 AM

  2. That’s a tarantula hawk.

    Jeri Porter

    July 23, 2017 at 8:23 AM

  3. Amazing shot. So much detail for an insect on the move, and so beautiful. And odd name for a wasp.

    Martha Goudey

    July 23, 2017 at 9:59 AM

    • The detail comes from using a macro lens and setting the shutter speed to 1/500 of a second. My understanding of the name is that this kind of wasp is being likened to a hawk in its predatory prowess. I found an online article indicating that at least one species really does prey on tarantulas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 23, 2017 at 10:32 AM

  4. Eek! That looks like one large spider!!


    July 23, 2017 at 11:41 AM

  5. It’s interesting to see the spider as victim. My impression is that most of us are more likely to see the spider as predator in these little dramas, which probably says more about our powers of observation than it does about reality. I was glad to find this one described as a docile, nectar-sipping creature, but I intend to keep an eye out for it after reading about its sting.

    Do you know if it eats spiders other than tarantulas? This doesn’t exactly look like a tarantula to me, but I couldn’t find any information that connected the wasp with other kinds of spiders.


    July 23, 2017 at 1:23 PM

    • From the little I’ve read online, it seems various wasps have popularly gotten called tarantula hawks. I have a request in to bugguide.net for an identification of this one. Likewise for that of the spider, which I don’t think think was a tarantula, either, but what do I know about such things?

      Human psychology does cast spiders as predators, which they are, but generally forgets to go up a step in the food chain to consider things that kill spiders. And of course spider-killers include people.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 23, 2017 at 1:48 PM

  6. Very striking photo. And effective. I’ll second the “eek!” and raise you one “Yaaah!”
    The world of insect predators always seems more fantastic and terrifying than any movie I’ve watched. (With the exception of “Ishtar” of course.) Even cute little ladybugs, when you watch them in action, getting rid of aphids, are pretty darn scary, and I avoid thinking about predatory nematodes, etc.

    Robert Parker Teel

    July 23, 2017 at 4:37 PM

    • I think it was Woody Allen who described the world of nature as being one big supermarket out there. I’d hate to have to fend for myself if I were the size of an insect. I’ve read that the female tarantula hawk lays an egg on the abdomen of the paralyzed spider; when the egg hatches, the hatchling burrows into the spider and eats it from the inside out. Talk about horror.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 23, 2017 at 5:19 PM

      • Woody Allen, just before he runs back out of Annie Hall’s bathroom, “Honey, I’ve been killing spiders since I was 30.” Yes, that “Microcosmos” “Le peuple de l’herbe” documentary was an eye-opener for me (who knew bugs spoke French!) a bit scarier than “Honey I Shrunk the Kids”.
        Thanks very much for the “Alien” imagery, I’m signing off now, and going to have dinner.

        Robert Parker Teel

        July 23, 2017 at 5:34 PM

  7. Gasp! After reading the comments, this sounds like a macabre Halloween post! This is a great capture, Steve. Your patience paid off!

    I wish I’d had my iPhone yesterday, to video a wee spider attempting to take down a cicada killer that had gotten tangled in the spider’s web near the ground. Talk about a furious fight to the finish! The small spider went back and forth, trying to get to the cicada killer, but it never could. The buzz from the cicada killer only added to the drama of it zipping back and forth, never letting the spider get near it. Finally, the cicada killer managed to free itself! I was elated for the escape, yet a little disappointed for the spider. I generally do take up for the underdog you know!


    July 23, 2017 at 7:53 PM

    • Your “Gasp!” sounds like the word “wasp.” Yes, it’s macabre out there in nature, with so many little creatures eating so many others.

      Too bad indeed that you didn’t have a way to record the combat you saw, in which the spider almost turned the tables on the wasp. If the spiderweb had been a little stickier and stronger, the wasp wouldn’t have managed to make its getaway and would eventually have tired to the point that the spider could have gotten at it. Of course the underdog that you took up for this time is usually the killer, as in the little drama I was lucky enough to record. Ah, relativity.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 23, 2017 at 9:23 PM

  8. That’s an impressive haul for the wasp!!


    July 24, 2017 at 3:16 PM

  9. Looks like the spider is going to become dinner. Great shot Steve ..


    July 26, 2017 at 2:32 AM

    • The spider will indeed become food, but not for the wasp that was dragging it. According to what I’ve read, this female wasp will lay an egg on the abdomen of the paralyzed spider. When the egg hatches, the wasp larva will burrow into the spider and eat its insides.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 26, 2017 at 5:58 AM

      • We have a parasitic wasp here that does that also …


        July 26, 2017 at 4:47 PM

        • I have the impression that there are wasps of that type in many places around the world. Spiders, those fierce predators in their own right, get a dose of poetic justice from these wasps.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 26, 2017 at 5:22 PM

  10. An interesting and beautiful photo, Steve. I found a bunch of mud nests in the shed, built on old cardboard stored in the rafters that was finally being recycled. Some had developing wasps, most all the chambers were stuffed with dead spiders.

    Lavinia Ross

    July 26, 2017 at 8:23 PM

  11. You have a keen eye my friend 🙂
    Thank you

    Ben Aqiba

    July 28, 2017 at 2:14 AM

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