Tarantula Hawk Wasp

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The Tarantula Hawk is a solitary, black spider wasp about 2 inches in length, with orange wings. The name “Tarantula Hawk” is derived from the way the wasp hunts down burrowing spiders, particularly tarantulas, to feed to their young. During late summer, the tarantula hawk can be seen flying low to the ground in search of these burrows. Adult tarantula hawks feed on nectar but their young need the protein a tarantula spider can provide.

Male Tarantula Hawk

Male Tarantula Hawk (Pepsis formosa) – a species of solitary wasps.

Hunting Tarantulas

The female tarantula builds a web across the entrance of her burrow. When a tarantula hawk has found one, she pulls at the webbing, tricking the tarantula into coming out – and then she attacks it, sometimes fighting for a very long period of time. The tarantula hawk is unaffected by the spider´s venom. When the wasp has taunted the spider long enough, the tarantula rears back on its hind legs, exposing the underside of its belly. The wasp is then able to pierce through the tarantula´s armor, sting, and paralyze it.

Tarantula

California Tarantula (Aphonopelma sp.)

Behavior and Reproduction of Tarantula Hawk Wasps

Once the spider is immobile, the tarantula hawk drags it to her own burrow, or sometimes she uses the tarantula´s burrow. When she has the spider inside, the tarantula hawk lays a single egg on the spider´s abdomen. The egg hatches into a larva within a few days. The larva then makes a hole in the spider´s abdomen and feeds on the paralyzed but still-alive tarantula. As the wasp larva eats, it makes sure to leave any vital organs until last, so the tarantula meat remains fresh. One tarantula hawk can paralyze up to 20 spiders! Each egg/larva needs its own spider to feed on until it emerges the following year.

Video – Tarantula Hawk vs Tarantula

An amazing battle between a tarantula hawk wasp and tarantula caught on video. Note how the wasp takes the time to do a little victory dance and clean her antennae, making sure the tarantula is good and paralyzed before she drags it home to her burrow.

Distribution of the Tarantula Hawk

The tarantula hawk wasp is found world-wide, with several species living in the deserts of the southwestern United States. Though the wasp is considered a “desert” creature, it is common in southern California areas such as San Diego and L. A. County, especially where there are protected chaparral communities of native California plant and wildlife.

Tarantula Hawk

The tarantula hawk is common in California and the Southwest. In 1989 New Mexico named it their state insect.

Pest Control

The tarantula hawk wasp isn´t considered a pest unless you happen to be a tarantula. Both are solitary creatures. The tarantula appears to be the scarier of the two for most people. Tarantulas are however, beneficial spiders. They feed on insects and other arthropods but then the larger tarantulas feed on our beneficial lizards and birds as well. Depending on whose side you´re on; whether you dislike the look, potential bite, and barbed hairs of the tarantula, or the sting of a tarantula hawk wasp (which is really reserved for spiders), they are about even when it comes to pest standards. At least with the wasp it is very unlikely you would get stung whereas the tarantula can make its way indoors and hide in dark corners of closets and cabinets. If threatened, a tarantula may bite or throw its hairs at you. To learn more about tarantulas, visit our spider website: www.spiderlife.org

References

Schoenherr, Allan A. 1991. A Natural History of California. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Wikipedia. “Tarantula Hawk.” Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarantula_hawk. Online

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