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Hymenoepimecis: Such Mindless and Cruel Predation
Another of Life's Little Drama's
It's not only man who is vile, Bard!
When the lion or tiger kills in hot blood to survive, we understand and forgive the beasts, for were we not once just the same? Stoning the mammoth or the saber-tooth to eat, or in defense of our family. When the peregrine stoops from the sky and the feathers explode from the struck wood-pigeon, we might wince, but we admire the predator for its power and swiftness and feel contempt for its weak and subservient victim.
The Anaconda which strangles and crushed the peccary then swallowing it whole; the Great White Shark or Orca, throwing the bloodied bodyof the seal into the air, toying with it before tearing it apart. But at least their hunt is in hot blood and there is danger of serious bites, in many cases from the victims.
But there are predators out there in the forests and mountains whose methods make us shudder and want to crush them under foot. The creatures which make us cringe violate their prey with no danger to themselves and in a manner which reminds more of a machine-like process from a universe we are finding completely harsh and without compassion. And if there is a Supreme Being overseeing the happenings of the tiniest creature, as Darwin said, he must be an unfeeling creature indeed.
We are now more or less familiar with the doings of the Tarantula Wasp who paralyzes its victim and then lays its eggs in the inert prey which hatch and eat it from the inside-out. But scientists and entomologists have discovered one from this large family which takes things even further and must have poor Darwin turning in his tomb.
There can be little lying undiscovered in the deepest rain forest which can disgust us more than the behavior of HYMENOEPIMECIS ARGYRAPHAGA: The Costa Rican wasp which is the scourge of the PLESIOMETA ARGYRA Orb Spider.
The wasp attacks the spider, temporarily stunning it while it lays several eggs on its abdomen. The spider then, to all intents and purposes, recovers and carried on as normal, web-building, trapping its own prey and breeding. Meanwhile, the wasp’s eggs hatch into larvae and feed from the spider’s bodily fluids through tiny puncture wounds on the abdomen. The spider seems unaware of this awful scenario and the fate which awaits it.
This activity continues on for some weeks as the larvae continue to mature. Something very strange and unusual then occurs. The spider’s behavior changes radically. Somehow, perhaps through chemical secretions, or by previous programming from the adult wasp‘s toxin, the spider is compelled to cease its regular web-building activity. Instead of the large round web, the orb spider changes its internal plan and builds a small, stable platform from its silk and secretions - in effect, building its own tomb. The wasp larvae then quickly kill the spider, using other toxic secretions; they congregate on the platform, adding a cocoon which is water, ant and other predator proof, then hunkering-down to begin the next stage of their development to adult wasps.
What macabre but fiendishly clever methods. The spider seems not to have any idea she is under attack and doomed. The larvae, too, would have no animus towards their poor host and be merely following the genetic dictates from millions of years of programming. But we must reflect on this miracle we call evolution. How many millennia passed before this cunning system evolved? Why has the orb spider developed no defense against the wasp and her homicidal larvae? As the spider doubtlessly captures smaller wasps and many other flying insects in her web, is there not some callous, poetic justice in her certain fate?
The so called lower life forms seem to have little idea about life and death, apart from reacting to stimuli such as heat, cold, life-threatening attack to their bodies, etc. If this wasp attached its eggs to our bottoms, we would be running to the clinic as soon as we were aware of the fact - unless Darling‘s cuts to the NHS closed that avenue for us! (As we do, indeed, when attacked by the Bot Fly, for example…see Hub). But if the spider knows they are there, she makes no effort to remove them; perhaps this is part of the chemical programming injected by the wasp?
It does make me wonder, however, how many minute creatures, such as virus and bacteria, do attempt or succeed in chemically or electronically brain washing man while they do as they will with us? Look how long it takes flu symptoms to show - up to ten days, what sort of numbing process is going on in the great, grey caverns of our bodies to keep us unaware as the zillions begin to colonize?
And what, pray, could be waiting in the wings as evolution programs a new and indescribable menace to destroy us!?
In fact, we are far more vulnerable than we can imagine. Paleontologists and geologists have firm evidence of at least five major ice ages in the last approximately 2 billion years. And in the last million years, they can show several extinctions of early man. Our very success today in technology and medicine, allowing our population to increase in a such dramatic manner, may well result in our undoing. Because of our numbers covering every continent in so many areas, a large number of us is always affected by just about every natural disaster that occurs. This includes earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, tsunamis; plague and famine. The viral bridge ensures someone having a cold in Sydney and it arriving in, say, London in a few days time. Not only these, but we are in danger of solar flares, comets and other large rocks which can collide with earth at any time with no warning.
But the odds are still on our side in 2010 to live a full and happy life…worrying won’t do much good anyway!