What is Tarantula Hawk? A Short Tale of Deep Sting

Tarantula Hawk, sounds like a predatory bird preying on venomous tarantulas. But, do you know what is Tarantula Hawk actually?

The name is given to a group of parasitoid wasp species of the genera: Pepsis and Hemipepsis.

what is Tarantula Hawk

Fear of insects is common among humans and is called Entomophobia. However, fear of spiders is more common because this lives in our house. Although, it is really scary if someone faces a stinger or a swarm of a stinger! Now, we are going to learn about the big wasp which makes even the biggest and hairiest spider, tarantula runs away in terror, the tarantula hawk.

So, let’s have a brief storyline on tarantula hawk wasp facts.

Fear of insects is common among humans and is called Entomophobia. However, fear of spiders is more common because this lives in our house. Although, it is really scary if someone faces a stinger or a swarm of a stinger! Now, we are going to learn about the big wasp which makes even the biggest and hairiest spider, tarantula runs away in terror, the tarantula hawk.

So, let’s have a brief storyline on tarantula hawk wasp facts.


What is Tarantula Hawk? The Namesake


As we know the predatory habit of the bird hawk, tarantula hawk wasp is likely to do so. They prey on tarantulas by chasing them, engaging in a ferocious battle that leads to the namesake spider being paralyzed with a persistent painful sting!


But why they hunt tarantula?


Like other wasps, adult male and female tarantula hawks feed on flower nectar, pollens, berry extract, etc. But it’s the female wasp who hunts tarantula for feeding their newborn baby larva!

A female wasp who is ready to reproduce must find a tarantula and do the laborsome job. Sometimes, she attempts to lure the inhabitant tarantula out with some typical tricks.


The fate of the prey (Tarantula)


Female tarantula hawk paralyzes tarantula spider by its sting. Then drag the so-called sleeping spider which can be up to eight times their weight, into a burrow where it lays an egg on the tarantula’s abdomen. Mother wasp seals the entrance of the den.

A newly hatched larva creates a small hole in the spider’s abdomen and devours the tarantula in order to develop into an adult, eating the non-essential organs first and the vital organ-dorsally located heart, at last, to keep it alive for as long as possible!


How long does a tarantula survive in a paralyzed condition?


Once the egg hatches after 3-4 days on the tarantula’s abdomen, the larvae will feed on the still-living spider for several weeks, avoiding vital organs to keep the spider alive until the larvae pupate into an adult. The newly hatched larva usually go through 4 molts which generally takes 20-25 days, and finally becomes a fifth instar larva. The fifth instar stage stays for 4-5 days then it pupates for 2-3 weeks; finally, an adult wasp comes out from the spider’s abdomen!

So, if we summarize, an average of 38-50 days takes to develop into an adult tarantula hawk wasp. The tarantula thus lives for about 23-30 days in paralyzed condition. The number of days taken varies on different wasp species.


Which one is more venomous: Tarantula Vs Tarantula Hawk


All tarantulas are venomous to their prey; some bites cause serious discomfort to human beings and may persist for several days. In general, the effects of all kinds of tarantula bites are not well known. Tarantulas give some people creeps because of their large, hairy bodies and legs. The hairs along with a bite may cause allergic reactions causing severe muscle cramps. Except for any allergic reaction, a tarantula bite hurts like a small bee sting but their venom is weaker than a typical bee’s.

The largest tarantula is the Goliath birdeater tarantula (Theraphosa blondi) of northern South America; this is arguably the biggest spider in the world by its body mass, about 175 gm. But it is the second, up to 13 cm to the giant huntsman spider by leg span.

what is Tarantula Hawk - the black tarantula

Tarantula hawk wasp won’t sting unless you bother them first. Only a female wasp can sting. Males do not have the egg-laying ovipositor which is modified into a stinger on female insects.

Unlike bees, female wasps have the ability to sting a target multiple times because their stinger does not fall off after use. Luckily, the sting is not dangerous enough, unless you are unfortunate to develop an allergic reaction. However, the tarantula hawk named Pepsis grossa has been the awarded second place on the Schmidt sting pain index, beaten only by the South American bullet ant, Paraponera clavata.

The sting pain is instantaneous, electrifying, excruciating, and undescribable that you have nothing to do except screaming! Though the intense pain only lasts about five minutes.

Tarantula hawk sting is more intense than a tarantula bite. Neither of these is lethal to human as their venom is specified for their prey or predator.

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Ms. Subhra Das is a biology teacher in high school by profession. Besides she is a passionate science writer and nature lover.

As a teacher, she never restricts herself within the four walls of the classroom, rather she loves exploring the crude science behind the natural facts that include human and animal health, critical diseases, typical characteristics of wildlife, and mother nature.

Ms. Subhra Das is also a passionate traveler and explorer; she always tries to uncover natural flora and fauna at every destination she travels.

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