This is the start of the battle, and the spider seems to have the advantage. However, while it might be physically overpowering the wasp, the wasp has a weapon, using its sting to inject the spider with venom.
The wasp is starting to escape from the spider’s grasp, but look at the way the spider’s legs are gripping the insect tight. They are fighting for their lives, and both know it.
The spider is likely to be a Larinioides sclopetarius, a species of orb weaving spider. Orb weavers make the classic round webs we see in gardens, though they’re often found above and around water. From its appearance, it seems that the wasp is a yellowjacket.
The dynamics of the situation have changed; the wasp has managed to get the spider on its back. In the large version of this picture you can see a silken thread still attached to the latter’s leg.
Fights between spiders and wasps aren’t that rare. Yellowjackets are often killed by orb weavers when they stumble into their webs. But it’s not all one way: some wasp species not only prey on spiders but also use them as hosts for their larvae.
When certain species, such as spider wasps, need to lay their eggs, they paralyze a spider with their venom. They then lay their egg on the spider’s abdomen where it starts to develop. When the egg hatches, the wasp larva will feed on the still-living spider as its first meal — killing it in the process.
Here the wasp is giving another solid bite to the spider, its stinger up in the air. It’s difficult to say which has the upper hand — the deadly embrace, at this point, looking pretty evenly matched as both combatants struggle on their backs.
In this close-up, you can see a liquid of some sort near the wasp’s mouth. It is hard to say whether it is venom from one of the combatants or from an injury.
Wasps generally eat prey as larvae and nectar as adults. This adult wasp may have been looking for a place to lay eggs as there was no feeding involved after the spider died. (So there you have it, Spidey lost! Read on to see it in its death throes.)
The fatal stroke given, the spider’s legs start to curl into the death position.
Battered and beaten, the corpse is left alone. Dazed and exhausted, the wasp flew off about five minutes after the battle ended.
This last image is a close-up of the spider, showing its chelicerae, or mouthparts. Hard-fought battles like this occur throughout the animal kingdom, and while we’ll never know the true purpose of this vicious battle, it stands as an example of the brutality often found in the natural world. It seems the old saying is true: nature really is ‘red in tooth and claw’.