Such was the case during our trip to Amelia Island, FL last August, when a frightening beast of a bug flew past us and set all sorts of alarms off in our heads. This massive wasp buzzed right around in our vicinity, and temporarily sent us into panic mode. It was certainly the biggest wasp we'd ever seen, but we were more immediately concerned with staying clear of it's 5" long "stinger". We kept a safe distance from it until we watched it land on a nearby leaf, and then composed ourselves and crept nearer for closer inspection, all the time wary of what that mighty "stinger" might do to us.
We learned later that this was a Giant Ichneumon wasp (Megaryssa macrurus), and that the "stinger" wasn't a stinger at all, but an ovipositor. The precise means with which the females deposit their eggs is both nasty and brutish, and was cited by Darwin as evidence against a loving and all-powerful God:
"I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice."
The female ichneumon walks along a suitable piece of wood, feeling with her antennae for any vibrations within that might signal a possible larval host. Sensing a host, she drills through the wood with her metal-tipped ovipositor. Once the host individual (most commonly a caterpillar) is exposed inside its cavity, the wasp paralyzes it, rendering it unable to move, and then proceeds to deposit her eggs inside the host. She's careful not to kill it, though, keeping the animal alive so that the young, when they hatch, can eat the living animal from the inside out.
And that is the spectacular and gruesome truth about the ichneumon wasp. That long ovipositor may not have posed any threat to me or Maureen, but it's nevertheless the harbinger of great suffering and an instrument of unfathomable torture. It just goes to show that what nature lack in pity, it more than makes up for with awe-inspiring surprises.
Note: The ichneumon wasp was also the subject of Stephen Jay Gould's essay "Nonmoral Nature," available here