When I lived in Mexico, a game people sometimes played, generally over drinks, was to share their stories of getting mugged. Everyone had one, eventually even me. My experience was banal, but a Swedish colleague had a fantastic story that has stayed with me over a decade. She lived in one part of Mexico City and worked in another, across town. She took public transit to work every day. One morning she got off the bus near her work, and a man stopped her, flashing a knife. As she handed over her wallet, she exclaimed that she lived all the way across the city, and if he took all her money, she wouldn’t be able to get home that evening.
The knife-wielding man reached into his pocket and gave her enough change to catch the bus home. Turns out he was a mugger with a heart of – well, not gold. Bronze, maybe.
Asking about mugging stories in Mexico always resulted in a lively conversation. I don’t know what the Canadian equivalent to this would be. Probably something to do with getting your vehicle stuck in the snow.
In Australia, if you want to hear dramatic, horrific and sometimes hilarious anecdotes, you ask about spiders. Everyone has at least one good spider story. I’ve written about Australian spider stories before, sharing some of the best anecdotes I’ve heard, as well as my own.
Recently I had dinner with a group of Australians. We’d all just met each other, so I asked about their spider stories. There were a few standards. Someone told a story about a huntsman in a pillowcase (yes, they do bite!). Another recalled the time a huntsman laid its eggs in the sideview mirror of her car. She discovered this as she was driving down the highway, when the huntsman decided to run across the windshield. She tried to fend it off with the wipers. ‘Then I heard it run across the top of the car. I had to go to a service station to get help.’
I thought that maybe, after nearly a decade in Australia, I’d heard the gamut of spider stories.
And then someone started talking about the spider wasp.
It came in through a living room window, a huge orange and black wasp flying erratically. Its head was tremendous, its mouth fur-covered, with a wildly waving set of pinchers.
Except it wasn’t a set of pinchers at all. The wasp had bitten into a huntsman (which are gigantic and furry, like tarantulas) and was flying around with the still-live spider in its mouth.
The wasp flew into the window pane, dropped the twitching huntsman on the sill, and took off out the open window.
When she recovered from the shock enough to look it up online, the startled victim of the spider delivery learned the Australian spider wasp’s tactic: it paralyses its prey, then flies off with the spider (which is much larger than the wasp), and lays its eggs inside the spider, for the hatching baby wasps to consume from the inside out.
In case you’re feeling queasy, here’s a koala.
It’s still early, but the spider-wasp story is a strong contender for Spider Anecdote of the Year 2019.
In other news, I’m at Better Read than Dead in Newtown this week to talk about my book on Thursday, July 4, 6:30pm. You can find out about more upcoming events, and possibly read more spider anecdotes, in my monthly author newsletter.