Welcome to this article about the tarantula hawk! The tarantula hawk is a type of wasp that has a deadly reputation for having one of the most powerful and painful stings in the world. They are also known for hunting tarantula spiders, hence their name. Join us as we take a look at some facts about this interesting insect.
Tarantula Hawk Characteristics
- The scientific name of the Tarantula Hawk is Pepsis thisbe.
- Tarantula hawks are one of the largest species of wasps as they can grow up to 5 cm or 2 inches in length. They usually have dark blue/black bodies with brown wings.
- The vivid colors on the wasp’s body is an example of aposematism which is a biological warning to predators about the insect’s ability to give a powerful sting.
- The sting of a tarantula hawk can grow up to 7 mm in length and makes up one of the most painful stings in the world. Note that they are normally harmless to humans when unprovoked but if they became restless and do sting you, it is guaranteed to be extremely painful!
- Similar to most species of insects, the males tend to be smaller than the females.
- These wasps can be very robust in nature. They do not get injured easily and have sturdy bodies when they fight with tarantulas.
- Males typically have a straight antenna whereas the antennae of a female can be curly.
- The wasps have claws that are hooked which enable them to quash and grapple with their prey.
Facts about Tarantula Hawk’s Distribution and Habitat
- Tarantula hawks are distributed worldwide across all continents. Although they are common in the tropics around India and Southeast Asia, they have also been found in Europe, North America, and Australia.
- They are most concentrated but varied in areas in South America, with around 250 species that were discovered.
- In total, there are around 300 species of tarantula hawks around the world and can survive across various climates.
- In the United States, the wasps are most common in the desert areas and arid zones.
- Tarantula hawks are most active during the Summer.
- While most species of wasps live in colonies that they build, the tarantula hawk is known for being more of a loner.
- They build their habitats by burrowing holes into the soil and creating layers in the burrow. This will enable it to drag its prey deep down for the larvae to feast on.
Tarantula Hawk Behavior and Diet
- These species of wasp happen to be one of the largest pollinators of flowers in the world! Despite their name, adults are nectarivorous (they mostly drink flower nectar).
- The adult males tend not to hunt. Instead, it is usually the female wasps that go on the hunt for tarantulas.
- Adult males are known for ‘hill-topping’. This is an insect behavior in which the male insect would perch on top of a plant and watch other females while waiting to reproduce.
- The females start their hunt after mating but before reproduction. The larval stage of the wasp relies on tarantulas for food, which is why the females do the hunting.
- If the wasp locates a spider before finding its burrow, it has an interesting way of fighting it. The wasp will use its claws to grapple with the spider and flip it onto its back. In order to disable the spider immediately, the wasp will sting it and within seconds, the poison will paralyze the tarantula.
- The female locates a tarantula’s burrow through their smell. She meddles with the web, basically trying to give the impression that prey is stuck in the web for the tarantula to feed on. The tarantula will come out to investigate and the wasp immediately stings the spider which instantly paralyzes it. The wasp will drag the spider all the way to her nest and will lay her eggs on the body of the tarantula.
- The larvae feed on the spider through quite an interesting process (which is quite painful for the spider!). They form a hole in the tarantula’s abdominal area and begin to feed on the fluids while avoiding any vital organs in order to keep the tarantula alive for long periods. After several weeks, once the larvae pupate, it will rise from the abdomen of the spider and continue the life cycle.
- Another interesting fact about tarantula hawks is that the sex of the species is determined by fertilization of eggs! If the eggs are fertilized, the hatching larvae are always female. If the eggs are unfertilized, then they are normally male larvae.
Based on all these facts, we can agree that the tarantula hawk wasp is one of the most formidable insects (especially if you are a tarantula!). While its stinger can completely disable a large spider, it can knock out a human as well, although this is rare. Therefore, it comes as no surprise as to why this incredible creature is very much loved by insect entomologists around the world. I hope that you enjoyed learning about tarantula hawk facts! For more information on other animals, visit animal facts page!