Nature’s most thrilling encounters are reserved for when you are off-guard. I have had the fortune of realizing and acknowledging this on several occasions. One such event involved an insect, a kind that we bird-watchers often tend to overlook, lost in our engagement with gazing at the sky. After a particularly dry run with birds and mammals on a trip to Bor Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra, my friend Rithika interrupted my peering at a flock of Woolly-necked Storks, pointing curiously at something nearly invisible on the ground.

On closer inspection, we caught a murderer red-handed with the creature she had slain. A spider-wasp had killed a spider and had started digging the ground vigorously. After a sufficiently deep pit was created, she dragged the spider into it and covered her quarry with mud, with just the same vigour. A few moments later, two male wasps arrived, and the insects appeared to be having some sort of a discord, with the larger female trying to ward them off, but the males still following her. After some profanities were exchanged, the female dug the spider out and carried her quarry to another spot and repeated the process!

Although I could not understand the systematics of this interaction entirely (such as whether or not the female laid an egg on her quarry before burying it, and what her interaction with the males could have meant), I was left astonished witnessing this unique natural-history moment. While this drab-looking picture (coupled with my very limited photographic skills) shows you the individual I had the pleasure of meeting, a more dramatic rhyme-comic that follows will take you along the life and behavior of this creed of mystifying insects – the Spider-wasps – and will hopefully prod you to scan the ground on a nature walk just as much as you gaze at the sky!

01

Spider-wasp with kill, photographed at Bor Tiger Reserve

02