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Tarantula Hawk Wasp

Priya Johnson
Tarantula hawk wasps are insects that entrap tarantulas as nurseries for their young ones. Their powerful stingers render the huge tarantula helpless and paralyzed for the rest of its life...
Tarantula hawk wasps are species of spider wasps that seize tarantulas as food for their little ones (larvae!). These wasps are known by other names like spider hunting wasp and spider wasp and measure somewhere between 21mm to 51mm in length, making them one of the largest wasps found in the United States.
This wasp species is classified in the new world genus Pepsis and Hemipepsis of the family Pompilidae. These wasps are truly mesmerizing species; their hunting style causes one to wonder, if this species is a true or fictional character. As you read further, you will find out why this insect is so fascinating to insect lovers.

Tarantula Hawk Wasp Description

Tarantula hawk wasp features an enamoring metallic, bluish-black body with wings that vary in color from mahogany, orange, red, iridescent black or bluish-black tinge. Their beguiling appearance wards of potential predators from attacking them. Their claws are hooked, so as to quash their prey.
These wasps are not particularly aggressive and seldom sting humans without provocation, however, their highly virulent stingers makes these one of the most agonizing insect stings in the world. Though, the sting conduces to excruciating pain, it is not particularly lethal.
Tarantula hawk wasps have bodies that are strong in form, thereby preventing them from sustaining injuries during 'hunting encounters' with tarantulas. Their venomous stingers have succeeded, in keeping most predators at bay. Except for the roadrunner, these wasps have no real enemy!

Where Does This Wasp Live?

Tarantula hawk wasps are distributed, right from the rainforest regions to deserts. One can find them all the way from India to Southeast Asia, Africa, Australia and America. About 250 species of these wasps, dwell in South America itself! These insects are active during the summer months and are found looking for their prey on the ground.

Feeding Habits - Tarantula Hunt

Tarantula hawk wasps are nectarivorous insects and feed on nectar and pollen. These wasps get highly attracted to flowers and make one of the largest species of pollinators. The larval stages of the insect feed on tarantulas, which is why the female wasp captures tarantulas.
However, the technique of capture is quite morbid! Although, we have to give credit to the wasp's virtuoso performance.
After mating, the female wasp goes looking for a tarantula for her young one's feed. She uses her sense of smell to track down tarantulas or their burrows.
Once she finds her prey's hideout, she will wheedle the tarantula into coming out of the burrow, by tampering with the tarantula's silk webbing cast at the burrows entrance. The tarantula is made to believe the web has struck lunch and comes out of the burrow to lap up the meal.
Once the female wasp manages to finagle the tarantula out of the burrow, she uses her 1/3-inch stinger to nail her prey. The poison from the stinger, when injected into the tarantula causes it to become paralyzed. She then drags her find all the way to her burrow and lays her egg onto the paralyzed tarantula and leaves the burrow.
If the female wasp encounters a tarantula anywhere on her way, she will subdue it by a rather award-winning style. It's more like a wrestling match! She grabs hold of the tarantula by the leg and flips it over on the back and then stings it.
What a technique! It takes only a few seconds for the poison from the stinger to work its way through the tarantula's body and render it paralyzed for life.
The morbid aspect of the hunting technique is that the female does not kill the tarantula, instead paralyzes it. The egg hatches to reveal a hungry larvae, which then begins to suck out all the fluids from the paralyzed and live tarantula.
The larvae first sucks out all the fluid, then consumes the entire tarantula body. So the poor tarantula dies a slow, torturous death. Talk about morbidity!
Nevertheless, female wasps do need to be given credit for their whizz performance. However, the male wasps cannot be overshadowed by the females. Male behavior in the tarantula-hawk wasp is also intriguing.
They perch on high points or taller trees to get a good view of the surrounding regions and keep an eye for all the virgin females interested in mating! This behavioral pattern of these wasps is termed as 'hill topping'.
Tarantula hawk wasps were chosen as the official state insect of New Mexico in 1989. In an effort initiated by Edgewood, New Mexico, a few elementary school students selected three insects as candidates for the state's officially declared insect.
The tarantula hawk won the election and was designated the title. These wasps are truly fascinating creatures. Their unique style and appearance is truly intriguing!