The Tarantula Hawk is not often seen here locally, but they are in fact here, in our area, including tarantulas! There have been more sightings of these wasps over the last few years. Here at the Truckee Meadows Pest Control office there is a Tarantula Hawk on display, along with other native insects that have been collected.
The Tarantula Hawk is a spider wasp and it has the second most painful sting in the world, next to the Bullet Ant. It is highly unlikely you will ever get stung by one, unless perhaps you step on one, but if you do get stung, lie down and scream! At least that is what Justin O. Schmidt, Entomologist and Author of The Sting of the Wild: The Story of the Man Who Got Stung for Science, likes to say at his speaking engagements. In his book he describes the sting, stating that “The pain is so debilitating and excruciating that the victim is at risk of further injury by tripping in a hole or over an object in the path and then falling onto a cactus or into a barbed-wire fence. Such is the sting pain that almost nobody can maintain normal coordination or cognitive control to prevent accidental injury. Screaming is satisfying and helps reduce attention to the pain of the sting.” On the more fortunate side, the pain only lasts a few minutes unlike the bullet ant that can last quite a few hours. Most surprisingly, regarding the tarantula hawk, it is docile. It is a great pollinator especially for milkweed, in particularly the desert or rush milkweed. The Tarantula Hawk drinks its nectar, but while doing so, its legs fit neatly inside the grooves of the flower and the bundles of pollen called pollinia get caught on the legs. When the Tarantula Hawk flies to another milkweed the pollen is transferred, and the plant is then pollinated. Milkweed is a larval food source for monarch and queen butterfly larvae. Other than seemingly managing the tarantula population, the Tarantula Hawk is beneficial in that it assists in the monarch and queen butterfly survival.
The Tarantula Hawk, to say the least, is fascinating! It is one of the largest wasp species, reaching up to 2 ½-inches. They have a shiny metallic blue-black body with bright yellow-orange wings. It is hard to miss when it is feeding on the nectar of flowers or the juice of berries in the garden, of course you wouldn’t miss it either if you are fortunate to see a tarantula hawk dragging an enormous tarantula across the ground. The Tarantula Hawk got its name exactly for that reason, this solitary spider wasp has no fear, in fact there are no known real predators of the Tarantula Hawk. Only female Tarantula Hawks can sting, and her stinger is formidable, commonly 1/3 inch long. The males do not hunt so the female will do all the work, hunting the tarantulas to lay her individual eggs throughout the season. She carefully battles with the tarantula and stings it between the leg base and sternum, the plate between all the legs. Depending on the size of the tarantula she may sting it more than once. Within two seconds, the tarantula is paralyzed, she then drags the enormous tarantula back to a nest burrow, either her own, but most of the time it is the tarantulas burrow. She is so powerful, she can and will drag the Tarantula a very long distance if it is necessary. Once in the burrow she will lay her solitary egg on the spider’s abdomen, she will then fill the tunnel with dirt and seal it. The egg will hatch in a few days and this single larva will pierce the abdomen to feed off the live paralyzed tarantula. It will avoid the primary organs to keep the spider alive for a longer period. Over the course of 20-25 days the larvae will grow and molt to become a fifth instar larvae. The tarantula is still alive, all that’s left is its heart, nervous system and exoskeleton, but now the fifth instar larvae will consume the rest of the tarantula and once the food is exhausted the instar will cocoon itself and pupate. If this happens in early spring, it will emerge as an adult in a few weeks, otherwise it will remain to overwinter and emerge in the following spring.
It’s unlikely you will be calling Truckee Meadows Pest Control about an issue with Tarantula Hawks but please give Truckee Meadows Pest Control a call at (775) 535-5788 if you are having any wasp or bee issues as flying stinging insects can cause harm to you, your loved ones and your pets.