Thursday, 25 December 2008

A cunning plan

This should have been a winner. It had murder, bright colours and a spider of Shelobian proportions. How on earth did it fail?

A pair of spider wasps (Cryptocheilus bicolor, family Pompilidae) have been visiting the garden. They patrol the fences for huntsman and jumping spiders. On finding one, the wasp will paralyse it with a sting and drag the unlucky arachnid to a burrow excavated in sand or soft soil. The wasp then lays an egg on the spider. When the wasp larva hatches it dines on the living larder provided by mum. Isn't that sweet?

Although they are large insects (more than 30 mm long) spider wasps also very active, which makes it difficult to get a decent photo. So, I came up with a cunning plan. But — and this is where it went wrong — it really was the sort of cunning plan that Baldrick might have devised.

My reasoning went like this: If they're hunting spiders, why not use a spider-shaped lure? A big one, so they could see it from a distance. By coincidence, I happen to own a large plastic spider, which the techies had given to me one Christmas. (Academic tip: It keeps out arachnophobic students.)

The moment I put it out, the birds moved in to investigate. Did you know that sparrows can do disdain? I can't imagine that many people have been the subject of a house sparrow's scornful down-the-beak gaze but I now have. They're very good at it.

The wasps ignored the spider.

So I'm back to stalking them with the long lens. Certainly, it's more successful than the plastic spider technique but the pics are still woeful. I keep trying.


mick said...

lol - I do like the idea of a disdainful sparrow! Thanks for a most amusing post!

sarala said...

Stalking wasps, OK. Have a sunny Xmas Down Under. I'd share our snow if I could.

Snail said...

Well, you know, everyone has to have a hobby!

Duncan said...

A nice try Snail, too bad it failed. At least Baldrick got sixpence for his sick and sordid plan! all the very best for the New Year.

Denis Wilson said...

I love a good word, but cannot make anything of "Shelobian" - except oblique references to horror movies, and Spiders.
Can you pls set my mind at rest?
By the way, I once managed to track a Spider Wasp, dragging a Huntsman. Hard to photograph, as when I showed too much interest, the Wasp looked like it would abandon its "other" prey in favour of taking me on! I backed off!
They move surprisingly quickly, even when dragging prey twice their size.



Maybe the spider wasps don't hunt by sight. Try rubbing some spider juice on your plastic spider. :)

Snail said...

Denis, you're on the right track. It's an adjective I made up from Shelob, the spider-thing, in Lord of the Rings.

As for the sting --- I'm using the long lens to put plenty of room between me and it!

Aydin, I'm off to get some spider juice right now!

Dave Coulter said...

Merry Christmas from snowy Chicago! No wasps here at the moment. ;)