What in the World is a Tarantula Hawk?

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 Odditycentral.com

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

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