For most small insects, the wolf spider (family Lycosidae) is a fearsome and deadly predator. Possessing natural camouflage, excellent eyesight and the ability to either pounce on prey or give chase at speed over short distances, the arachnid is an exceptional hunter. Spider wasps, however, are not most insects.

This short clip, captured in the Howard Springs Nature Park in the Northern Territory of Australia, gives us a glimpse at why exactly that is. Despite being easily twice the size of the spider wasp, the wolf spider is being dragged along as if it practically weighs nothing. It's also worth noting that the spider is almost certainly still alive – it just can't move.

That's because spider wasps (wasps belonging to the Pompilidae family) aren't just hunting spiders to eat: they're looking for suitable hosts to house and feed their young. 

"Spider wasps are parasitic insects who inject paralysing toxins into spiders before turning them into incubators for [their] larvae," explains the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife team on Facebook.

Once they have the spider immobilised, the insects drag their victim back to their burrows, and then plant a fertilised egg within the abdomen of the arachnid. When the egg hatches, the wasp larva begins to devour its ready-made meal from the inside out. The process might make you squeamish, but it's actually very common in the natural world, according to entomologist and Museum of Victoria manager of live exhibits Patrick Honan.

A female golden hunting wasp drags a paralysed spider to her nest. (Tony Wills/Wikimedia Commons)

"They tend to leave the vital organs till last, as the spider needs those to stay alive and the wasp wants the huntsman to be as fresh as possible to be consumed," Honan told ABC News earlier this year in response to footage of a spider wasp dragging an immobilised huntsman spider (of the Sparassidae family) back to its lair. He added that one in ten insects is parasitic. "It seems cruel and gruesome to us, but that is the way nature is."

Such predatory role reversals are relatively common, too, with spider wasps actively hunting spiders that are large enough to hold and nourish their young during breeding season. Various spider wasp species can be found throughout Africa, Australia, Asia and South America, making them quite widespread. Meanwhile, two of their favoured hosts – wolf spiders and huntsman spiders – can be natively found on every continent except Antarctica. Other spiders are often used for incubation purposes as well.

In the Southern Hemisphere, the summer months of December and January are prime breeding seasons for the spider wasps, according to Honan. Nature watchers south of the equator have a better-than-average chance of spotting the parasitic behaviour in action. And whether you're an arachnophobe or an arachnophiliac, it's a memorable spectacle. "Seeing a large orange and black or brilliant blue wasp dragging a large spider is something people tend not to forget," Honan told ABC News.


Top header image: James Niland, Flickr