Bugs Wildlife

What in the World is a Tarantula Hawk?

When you hear of a tarantula hawk the first thing that comes to mind is that it is a hawk that eats tarantulas.   But you’d be wrong.  It is a spider wasp which hunts tarantulas.

Tarantulas have earned a deadly reputation as a predator capable of killing mice, lizards and small birds.  But the spiders are known to run in fear from the tarantula hawk.   The tarantula hawk wasp preys on its namesake, engaging in a ferocious battle that leads to the spider being paralyzed with a highly painful sting.   Once stung, the tarantula becomes paralyzed within seconds. The condition will last for the remainder of its life.   The tarantula hawk wasps then drag the sleeping spider – which can be up to eight times their weight – to a burrow, lay an egg on the tarantula and seal up the tunnel. The young wasp devours the tarantula in order to develop into an adult, eating the non-essential organs first to keep it alive for as long as possible.

Tarantula hawks have not only worked out how to successfully attack a predatory spider but also to reserve the best meals for their most valuable offspring. The wasps are able to decide the sex of their baby by choosing whether to fertilize the egg or not, fertilized eggs produce females while males come from unfertilized eggs.   Males, unlike females, do not have to find and battle tarantulas, they simply seek flowers and a mate and as a result they are not required to grow as large as females.

Females are not very aggressive, in that they are hesitant to sting.  So you don’t really stand a chance of being bitten by the fearless wasp, unless you do something incredibly stupid like handle the wasp… but the sting is extraordinarily painful.  The sting has been described as beyond imagination.  It only lasts about 2 to 3 minutes, but it is unsurpassed in intensity by any other stinging insect.

And if you do get bitten…

“There are some vivid descriptions of people getting hurt by these things,” says Ben Hutchins, invertebrate biologist at Texas Parks and Wildlife. “Their recommendation – and this was actually in a peer-reviewed journal – was to just lie down and start screaming, because few if any people could maintain verbal and physical coordination after getting stung by one of these things. You’re likely to just run off and hurt yourself. So just lie down and start yelling.”


Information courtesy of the BBC and

The photo below is of a Mexican Tarantula Wasp (Pepsis mexicana)

Friends Wildlife


acorn woodpecker

The Acorn Woodpecker is  named after its diet of acorns. These birds utilize a communal granary or acorn tree to store or cache their live oak acorns from season to season.

Being skillful at drilling holes is one of their gifts. Their “social networking” group tends to the acorns, moving them to the right size holes as the acorns dry out and shrink.   Another job is to protect and defend their cache from robbers like the Western Scrub Jays. They stick together as their shared survival depends on their granary’s fortunes.

Acorn Woodpeckers communicate to their tribe with loud raucous “ rachet-rachet-rachet“ calls  that sound like laughing to us humans. Also, they are noted for their  “drumming” which is a woodpecker’s way of communicating with the group.   Drumming consists of 2-20 evenly spaced taps and is often executed on specific drumming posts, typically dead limbs with good resonance. Drumming is associated with intra-specific territorial encounters and as a method to attract mates. Drumming is done by both sexes and may occur at any time of the year but is most common in spring. ( Koening, 1996)   Drumming is also done on telephone poles, buildings and other man-made structures that provide good resonance…often to the dismay of their human neighbors!

Male Acorn Woodpecker showing full wing span as he lands at the granary.

Acorn Woodpeckers at Grainery Tree

Look closely at their head colors. The Males sport a large red cap starting at the forehead with white toward the front. Females sport a smaller red cap with some black toward the top and white in front.

Male Acorn Woodpecker at the granary in Los Penasquitos Preserve. Spring 2010.

When you get to feast your eyes on one, you may agree that they look a bit like Woody the Woodpecker who was partly based on their comical facial plumage.

More photos of Acorn Woodpeckers can be seen at:

Hope you get to see these amazing birds soon! See you on the trail. ~

This article was written by Jeanie Anderson and published in this newsletter.