Slow Death for a Tarantula: A Lesson in Arachnid Apologetics
by James J. S. Johnson, J.D., Th.D. *
In 1999, this author witnessed an unforgettable âair showâ in which a dive-bombing maneuver resulted in the gruesome death of an unsuspecting victim who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a bizarre event, yet that air-to-ground fatality, strangely enough, teaches an important lesson in apologetics.
Military Science: Air-to-Ground Offensive Technology
Imagine the military engineering and precision implementation that are required for a dive bomber attack, such as the bombing of German military buildings during World War II. Think about the many moving parts involved, and how easily something could go wrong.1
Or imagine the more recent computerized robotic technology used to send unmanned aircraft units into Iraqi combat zones to locate targets for subsequent air-to-ground destruction.2 One such unit is described below:
The UK has ordered Honeywell RQ-16A T-Hawk micro air vehicle (MAV) systemsâŚbecoming the first foreign military customer for the backpackable UAV [unmanned aircraft vehicle]. The T-Hawk is the first ducted-fan vertical take-off and landing air vehicle to enter productionâŚ.After a successful evaluation in Iraq of the MAV in the anti-IED role, the US Navy in November placed a $65 million production contract for 90 Block 2 MAV systems, each comprising two T-Hawk air vehicles and a ruggedized laptop ground control system.3
The intelligence required to plan and implement such a craft staggers the mind.
Arthropod Science: Air-to-Ground Offensive Technology
Equally amazing is the âdive bombingâ behavior of the tarantula hawk wasp (Pepsis formosa), an aerial arthropod that dives uponâand stabsâits victim, the tarantula Dugesiella echina. The arachnidâs death is a lingering one, allowing a parasitic consumption of the spiderâs flesh for as long it remains alive. This prey-predator relationship illustrates what could be called âarachnid apologetics,â displaying a bizarre example of Godâs providential balancing of earthâs post-Eden ecology.
Yet even more bizarre are the details of how the venom-stung spiderâs flesh is consumed. Two creation scientists reported observations of these tarantulas in their field study in the Chihuahuan Desert of Texasâ Big Bend National Park.
These large, hairy spiders are often employed by Hollywood in scenes to frighten an audience. The creatures do appear fearsome when one observes them. However, their bites are relatively harmless [sic] to man and they are not very aggressive. Often they are kept as pets and books have been written on how to take care of them.4
Although tarantulas are predators by nature, sometimes they themselves become the prey:
Tarantulas are carnivorous, generally preying upon smaller vertebrates and occasionally on small snakes, frogs, and birds. Catching their prey, they inject the victim with venom and suck the liquids from the body. Such an arthropod may appear to be invincible acting only as a predator, but not so. Likely, the Chihuahuan Desert tarantulaâs deadliest enemy ââŚis a large orange and velvet blue wasp (Pepsis formosa) commonly known as the tarantula hawkâŚ.The âhawk,â using its venomous stinger, paralyzes its tarantula and buries it after laying an egg on the victim. When the wasp egg hatches, the young larvae feed on the paralyzed prey.ââŚThus the balance in nature, maintained by an all-wise Creator, often is seen in a prey-predator relationship.5
In other words, the tarantula victimized by the attacking wasp serves the larval wasp as âlive meat.â The doomed spider literally hosts the mother waspâs âplantedâ child.
Tarantula âSelectedâ for Destruction
It was this kind of dive-bombing maneuver that I observed in the summer of 1999 beside my garage door. The tarantula hawk wasp stabbed the back of the tarantula, which struggled and shuddered, and then went limp. The mother wasp dragged the now-groggy tarantula for burial beneath a nearby bush, where the dying arachnid would âhostâ the implanted wasp larva until it was mature enough to emerge from the remains of the tarantula.
Some might interpret this event as ânatural selectionâ in action, but if that were the case, who actually did the âselectingâ? The physical environment âselectedâ nothing. The concrete pavement near my garage merely served as a color-contrasting background so that an airborne tarantula hawk wasp could easily spy the crawling, dark-colored tarantula. But the decision to dive-bomb and strike the tarantulaâi.e., the choice to âselectâ the spider for destructionâwas a decision made by the wasp, not the pavement.
As Dr. Randy Guliuzza has recently clarified, the phrase ânatural selectionâ is a misleading oxymoron, because no one can empirically identify a mythical entity called âNatureâ that somehow makes any intelligent choices as a âselectorâ: âTo legitimately use the word âselect,â there must be a real âselector.ââ6
In this case, the death-dealing selector was not âMother Nature,â it was a pregnant wasp that chose to attack the tarantula.
And why? Because she was pre-programmed, as are all other arthropods, to âbreed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earthâ (Genesis 8:17).
The mother wasp is genetically and behaviorally programmed to locate and anesthetize a tarantula, and to carefully transfer her larval offspring to the arachnidâs body. Why does all of this work out the way it does in each life cycle of this particular kind of wasp? Because, before Adamâs fall in Eden, God cleverly and carefully planned out (consistent with His infinite foreknowledge) the innumerable details that would be needed, after Eden, to make this air-to-ground system operate successfully enough to propagate tarantula hawk wasp populations from one generation to the next.
The wasp did not invent herself, nor did she invent the âall-or-nothingâ knowledge and skills needed to accomplish this life cycle. This wasp was purposefully engineered, as all such wasps are, with the necessary anatomy and instincts to feed her offspring in this manner so that they can survive and thrive in this cursed and âgroaningâ world (see Romans 8:20-22). Surely, the genius of God is exhibited in this bizarre form of predator-prey dynamics.
A Creationist Insight from the U.S. Armyâs âUnmannedâ Aircraft
Note the above references to the Armyâs unmanned aircraftâspecifically, the Honeywell RQ-16A T-Hawk micro air vehicle. The âT-Hawkâ portion of that aircraftâs name is an abbreviation for âTarantula Hawkâ; i.e., this particular military surveillance robot was named for the tarantula hawk wasp. Thus, even the dazzlingly clever inventiveness of man (who was created in the Creatorâs image and thus can be creative at a finite level) points directly, in this instance, to an insect that God Himself inventedâthe original female âT-Hawk.â
More important, however, is the U.S. Armyâs qualification in its official report on âunmanned aircraft systemsâ clarifying that these complicated and clever inventions are not really âunmannedâ:
Army UAS [Unmanned Aircraft Systems] are the âEyes of the Armyâ and support information dominance by providing the capability to quickly collect, process, and disseminate relevant information to reduce the sensor-to-shooter timeline.âŚA UAS is comprised of an unmanned aircraft (UA), payload, human operator, control element, display, communication architecture, life cycle logistics, and the supported soldier. The idea that the UAS are âunmannedâ is a misnomer because trained and professional Soldiers operate and maintain Army UAS.2
It is the highly intelligent and skilled soldier who ultimately operates and maintains each of the Armyâs âunmanned aircraft systemsââincluding the Honeywell T-Hawk aircraft units named for the tarantulaâs enemy, the tarantula hawk wasp.
Even more so, it is the infinitely intelligent and skillful Creator-God, who became mankindâs Redeemer as the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:1-14), who ultimately operates and maintains each of this worldâs tarantula hawk wasps. (Even wasps are not truly âunmanned.â)
Amazingly, even arachnidsâ air-to-ground attackersâmother tarantula hawk waspsâprovide providential proof of the divine pre-programming âselectionsâ that were intelligently planned and, during creation week, skillfully implemented by none other than the Lord of hosts.
- Breuer, W. B. 2005. A Horrendous Bombing Error Pays Off. Bizarre Tales from World War II. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 90-91.
- U.S. Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence (ATZQ-CDI-C). âEyes of the Armyâ: U.S. Army Roadmap for Unmanned Aircraft Systems 2010-2035 (U.S. Army, n.d.; 138 pages), 1. For this official reportâs context, see the Roadmapâs Foreword by General Martin E. Dempsey.
- Warwick, G. UK Orders T-Hawk MAVs. Aviation Week. Posted on aviationweek.com January 12, 2009, accessed August 17, 2011.
- Williams, E. L. and R. L. Goette. 1997. Tarantula Goes Accourtinâ and He Does Roam: The Tarantula and the Tarantula Hawk Wasp Show the Creatorâs Balance in Nature. Creation Research Society Quarterly. 34 (1): 3-4.
- Ibid, quoting Wauer, R. H. 1980. Naturalistâs Big Bend. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 106-107; and Davidson, R. H. 1991. Tarantula Hawk. Encyclopedia Americana. Granbury, CT: Grolier, 26: 292.
- Guliuzza, R. 2011. Darwinâs Sacred Imposter: How Natural Selection Is Given Credit for Design in Nature. Acts & Facts. 40 (7): 12-15, especially at 13-14.
* Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute for Creation Research.
Cite this article: Johnson, J. J. S. 2011. Slow Death for a Tarantula: A Lesson in Arachnid Apologetics. Acts & Facts. 40 (10): 10-11.