Summary of Paragraphs 12-17 of “The Spider and the Wasp”

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After satisfying herself that she has found the right species of tarantula and digging the spider’s grave, the female digger wasp goes back to the tarantula to finish her task. This is the point at which the wasp extends her “sting,” and begins the violent hunt for a convenient point of entry. She is specifically attempting to find the “soft membrane at the point where the spider’s legs join its body,” as she would be unable to puncture the tarantula anywhere else (Petrunkevitch 90). While the wasp’s search for this sweet spot continues, the spider makes no attempt to escape her intrusive grasp. It is only when it is too late, after the wasp has managed to firmly entrap the spider, does her victim exert its last-ditch effort toward survival. Unfortunately for the spider, Petrunkevitch emphasizes that this will always be an exercise in futility (90). The wasp expertly snuffs the spider’s paltry undertaking, and makes her injection.

The wasp’s poisonous sting is not fatal; it merely stuns the spider into a state of paralysis. The wasp then hauls the still-living tarantula off to its final resting place, where she joins it for a time – Petrunkevitch (in his animal observations) noting that her actions beyond their descent are unknown (91). What is certain is that, during her time underground, she at some point “lays her egg and attaches it to the side of the spider’s abdomen with a sticky secretion” (Petrunkevitch 91). Her return into the light from the depths of her victim’s grave marks her accomplishment. She takes measures to thoroughly cover the grave, in order to protect her offspring from danger.

In his archetypal essay, Petrunkevitch goes on to analyze the respective characteristics of the wasp and her victim in this context, considering the calculating intuition of the predator and the generally dumbfounded nature of her prey (91). Evidence shows that, the spider is not physically stunted by its initial encounter with the wasp. Additionally, there is an identical lack of defenses put up by tarantulas of both sexes, suggesting that the wasp does not lure her victims via the thrill of “sexual stimulation” (Petrunkevitch 91). The tarantula’s inability to react accordingly to such a compromising situation defies explanation. The wasp, on the other hand, displays a surprising amount of tact as she correctly identifies the species of her preferred victim, and an ability to adapt to any challenges put in her way.

This exercise of escapism seems to be prevalent among tarantulas. Apparently, it is in their nature to, “avoid problems rather than attack them” (Petrunkevitch 92). Petrunkevitch illustrates this point by explaining a phenomenon observed in spiders wherein they are more likely to abandon the task of completing construction of a web (even those that are nearly finished), than to attempt carrying it out with inadequate means (92). The analogy that Petrunkevitch provides likens the spider’s inability to complete its web, to the inability of an “inexperienced man to build a bridge across a chasm obstructing his way” (92). This is a tendency that is applied widely beyond web construction and is recognized as commonplace in the life of a tarantula, as they prefer to carry on in whatever way is most convenient. The desire for convenience is stronger than that to abide by logic, despite the forcefully merciless nature of a wasp attack. It is suggested that the tarantula is simply ignorant of the wasp’s capabilities, unaware of the fact that the wasp is acting out of the necessity to perpetuate the existence of her species (Petrunkevitch 92). Petrunkevitch concludes with a reminder that, “the spider is much more fertile than the wasp” (92). Though it is the wasp’s duty to kill “as many tarantulas as she can lay eggs” (Petrunkevitch 92), this practice does not put the spider at any risk of extinction.

Work Cited

Petrunkevitch, Alexander . "The Spider and the Wasp." Scientific American, vol. 187, no. 2,1952