When most of us hear the word "nature", we think of a peaceful walk in the forest or an encounter with a woodland creature that allows us close enough to get a good view. We might think of a meadow or a beautiful view that is unspoiled by human development. We are so accustomed to being at the top of the food chain that we rarely have to even give a thought to our own survival. Humans easily forget that the silence and splendor comes with an equal measure of danger and fear for almost all creatures.
The web of life is complicated and almost all animals are predators in one situation and prey in another. Very few creatures are immune from this and the most capable and feared predator can become the hunted in a split second. The insect world is a perfect example of this delicate balance and switching tide. Insects have developed incredibly effective defense mechanisms and repeatedly demonstrate that size and strength are not the only factors in who will eat who. When insects of different species meet, it is almost always a battle for life and death. These battles happen at our feet or in the air around us constantly, even though we are often unaware of it.
Wasps are formidable predators with a shell that acts as armor, protecting it from bites and stings from many creatures. They are strong fliers and fierce in nature, famous for being able to fend off attackers many times their size. Sharp stingers deliver a potent venom that will deter large animals and paralyze smaller ones. They often eat spiders and insects many times their size. In a group, they reign terror on any animal foolish enough or unlucky enough to come too close to their nests. But this doesn't mean they can let their guard down.
In this video, a wasp has set down on a sandy beach to get some water or perhaps to investigate the possibility of a meal. He doesn't see the first ant coming in what will be its final moments. The ant, known for being one of the most powerful creatures on earth for their size, also has a powerful toxin that it uses for defence and for hunting. It rushes the wasp and bites a leg, releasing formic acid and a few other toxins. The wasp is affected quickly by the first bite, but would survive if it took flight immediately. Instead, it turns on its attacker and begins probing with its stinger. The ant is agile and keeps moving in on the wasp to bite and flee, returning every few seconds for another round. It drops microscopic amounts of the formic acid on the ground around the wasp which acts as a chemical messenger for any other ants in the area. The acid excites any ant within range and they also join the battle, sensing food or a predator. They can spray the formic acid from their mandibles or they can bite sensitive areas such as legs and antennae. Before the wasp knows it, the venom has left it disoriented and weakened. It slows down, but it is furious and determined to sting anything it can find. Ants now bite the underside of the wasp and hang on, knowing that only the jaws and stinger present a serious threat. More formic acid is injected with each bite and the wasp knows it is in serious trouble.
Over a few minutes, the savage battle continues, but the wasp is becoming less coordinated and is moving more slowly each second. The ants must know that time is on their side and they wait between bites for the wasp to lose its fight. When it rolls over on its side almost completely stops moving, we see the unparalleled power of a solitary ant as it takes hold of the large wasp and begins to drag it towards its nest. Able to lift objects fifty times their size, an ant is unmatched for sheer strength. This mighty wasp, used to being a top predator in the insect world has had the tables turned by a few creatures that are much smaller.
For the ant though, the fight is not over. Before reaching the nest, it will have to battle other creatures for its prize, including ants from other colonies. Even surviving the journey is no certainty for the ant.
Nature can be vicious and unforgiving, with harsh consequences for any creature that lets its guard down.