The Spider and the Wasp By Alexander Petrunkevitch

The intention of this piece was the describe the interesting relationship between a tarantula and a wasp. Petrunkevitch goes into great detail about the appearance and behavior of the tarantula to try and allow the audience to better understand this fascinating relationship.

The tone of this piece remains academic throughout the entire essay. The main purpose of this essay is to describe the relationship between these two species from a scientific perspective. In order to keep the essay purely scientific Petrunkevitch keeps a very academic tone. Even though he is very descriptive when he’s describing the appearance of the tarantula, he keeps that academic tone. The descriptive language is simply to better understand the scientific aspects of the tarantula’s appearance and behavior. Even when the end of the essay starts to appear more like a story, Petrunkevitch still kept an academic tone.

This piece is chalk full of logos. Since it is a scientific essay, Petrunkevitch uses different example and facts about the two species. Petrunkevitch discusses different facts about the tarantula and the wasp such as, “A fertilized female tarantula lays from 200 to 400 eggs at a time.” (Petrunkevitch 593) and “The wasp only lives a few months. The female produces but a few eggs, one at a time at intervals of two or three days.” (Petrunkevitch 594). All these different facts allows the audience to trust the authors knowledge and see the reasoning behind his points. Since Petrunkevitch has given the audience so much data, they are able to make the decision that the information is accurate and trustworthy.

The arrangement of this piece is very effective and well put. It first introduces the tarantula and all of their traits. The essay goes into extremely detailed parts of the tarantula to understand how aware it usually is of its surrounding. The essay then introduces the wasp and talks about its reproductive process. The final aspect of this essay is bringing the two species together and how they interact. This arrangement is so effective because the reader is able to understand each of the species on their own and then how they change when they are in the presence of each other. Petrunkevitch is clearly trying to show the relationship between these two species and he is very successful because of how he arranged the essay.

– -Megan Ross


The intention of this piece is to compare the intensity of the roles that reasoning (or intelligence) and blind instinct play in the lives and predatory patterns of wasps and spiders—tarantulas to be exact.

One memorable quote from this piece is, “These solitary wasps are beautiful and formidable creatures.” This quote is memorable, because of the juxtaposition of the two characteristics that Petrunkevitch uses to describe the wasp. This subtly persuades the audience to acknowledge that the contrast between these two characteristics is similar to that of reason and blind instinct.

The idea that the origin of behavioral habits in different species is so vast that even with our advanced technology, we may never know the reasoning behind most animal behavioral patterns. Petrunkevitch emphasizes this idea in the line, “No clear, simple answer is available,” when trying to explain the reason why the spider senses no danger when in the presence of the wasp until it is too late. He offers a few possibilities to explain this phenomenon. Yet, Petrunkevitch acknowledges that his answers are merely  subjective and recognizes that he is not the foremost authority, thus creating an appeal to ethos.

Petrunkevitch is purposeful in his writing, beginning his essay with his intention, “In the feeding and safeguarding of their progeny insects and spiders exhibit some interesting analogies to reasoning and some crass examples of blind instinct.” Petrunkevitch’s awareness of his audience, the science community, allows him to create a logical narrative about the seemingly unconventional relationship between tarantulas and digger wasps as mentioned in the introduction. However, he focuses on the stylistic aspects of the narrative so that this piece can be easily understood by the general public as well. This is effective, because Petrunkevitch can reach a wider audience and leave them with the interesting question of why creatures act based on reasoning in certain situations, and then rely on instinct in others.

–Hannah Wagner

Intention: Petrunkevitch’s main intention of this piece is to describe how the behavior of the spider and the wasp demonstrates two kinds of reactions: “reasoning” and “blind instinct.” By describing the interaction of the spider and wasp in such depth, the author is able to capture the readers attention and personify the insects. By humanizing them, Petrunkevitch is able to convince the reader that the insects have the ability to reason. This is important in order to persuade the reader that these two reactions are natural.

Subject: The subjects of this essay are clearly the spider and the wasp; however, the meaning of these subjects go far beyond simply being insects. Petrunkevitch uses these figures to discuss human nature. Each insect represents a different kind of person. The tarantula represents those who react with “blind instinct.” The moth represents those who react with “reasoning.” These reactions are showcased in the interactions between the spider and wasp because the spider makes no attempt to move as the wasp prepares to kill it (instinct) and the wasp is very deliberate in all of its actions to kill the larger insect (reasoning).

Favorite Quote: “A classic example of what looks like intelligence pitted against instinct–a strange situation in which the victim, though fully able to defend itself, submits unwittingly to its destruction.” I like this quote because it adequately sums up the entire story. The nature of the spider and moth is truly perplexing. Although the spider is perfectly capable of protecting itself, it allows itself to be slaughtered by a “lesser” species due to instinct.  This interaction perfectly showcases intelligence versus instinct.

Audience: This article was initially published in Scientific American, a popular scientific periodical for lay readers. Because it was written for lay people, the science in the story was explained in a very thorough yet simple way that allowed people who aren’t experts in animal interactions to understand the interactions between the spider and the wasp. Because it was written for a lay person, this selection can be read by people who have no interest in science and still be entertaining.

–Sarah Braunstein


  1. The style of the essay is with a straightforward manner, describing the spider and the wasp respectively in great detail to provide the background knowledge necessary to fully appreciate the bulk of the essay. The descriptions are very vivid, thorough, and scientific, and are backed up by examples to prove their validity.
  2. Favorite quote: “In a way the instinctive urge to escape is not only easier but more efficient than reasoning.” Everyone can relate to this “gut feeling” that we are often told to trust. If we overthink things, it can be too late. Petrunkevitch explains this analogy through he spider and the wasp.
  3. By using an academic and descriptive tone, the reader begins to care about the insects. Usually, a spider and a wasp are species that are killed without a second thought because they are annoying. However, by knowing everything about them in this piece the reader wants to understand their behavior. This is how Petrunkevitch keeps the audience engaged.

— Mackenzie Coon


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