The Tarantula Hawk Wasp

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Its name is accurate and misleading all at the same time. Called the Tarantula Hawk, it is actually a wasp, but it does prey on tarantulas, in much the same way a hawk preys on rodents. It is, in fact, much more dangerous to tarantulas – paralyzing them in order to feed them to their young, than to humans – though its sting is reputed to be the most painful in North America, it is generally harmless beyond the pain.

What the Tarantula Hawk Wasp looks like:

  • At up to 2 1/2-inches in length, it is one of the largest of wasps.
  • It is metallic blue-black in color with blue-black or yellow-orange wings edged in black.
  • It has black antennae and long, velvety black legs with hooked claws.
  • The tarantula hawk flies low along the ground in search of spiders.
  • It is a common desert wasp of the Southwest, but can be found anywhere its prey, the tarantula, is found.
  • It is most active during summer days – however it does not like extreme heat.

What the Tarantula Hawk Wasp eats:

  • Adults feed on flower nectar, pollen, and the juice of berries and other fruits.
  • But the larvae feed on tarantulas provided to them by their mother:
    • The female searches the ground for tarantulas. If found in its burrow, she will strum the tarantula's web, pretending to be prey.
    • When the tarantula appears, she stings it.
    • The female tarantula hawk then drags the paralyzed tarantula to her own burrow, legs an egg upon its body, then covers the burrow.
    • When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the tarantula, consuming it in about 30 days.

    The Tarantula Hawk Wasp's sting:

    • Only females can sting – and its stinger can be as long as 1/3 inch. Males are harmless.
    • The tarantula hawk rarely sting unless handled or disturbed.
    • Its sting causes little damage, but is reputed to be the most painful of any insect found in North America.
    • Because they tend to fly low and hunt along the ground for spiders, a person moving barefoot across a lawn without looking down could be inadvertently stung by stepping on the wasp.

    Control of the Tarantula Hawk Wasp

    Tarantula Hawks are a species of spider wasp which are solitary wasps. As the description implies, these wasps do not tend to form colonies, rather they live alone. Many do not create nests at all, but rather burrow into the soil or simply use existing burrows or natural cavities.

    These wasps are also not aggressive or prone to stinging. For these reasons, many experts recommend that such wasps simply be left alone and preventive and exclusionary measures be taken to keep the wasps from purposely or accidentally getting into the home or stinging someone.

    Such measures include:
    • sealing all cracks, crevices and gaps in the structure, especially in the foundation
    • ensuring doors and windows are well-fitted and screens are in good repair.
    • keeping doors and windows shut.
    • when eating or drinking outside, checking food and beverage containers before touching to ensure no wasps have been attracted to or have landed on the food.
    • when a wasp is encountered, do not make sudden rapid movements, but softly, quietly leave the area until it is gone.

    It is, however, important to correctly identify a wasp that is found around your home. Because social wasps do build nests and form colonies, it will be more critical to ensure their removal by a professional, who will have the self-protection equipment as well as chemicals and tools to properly and safely rid your home of the problem.

    References and Resources for this article included:

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