Earth Notes: The Tarantula Hawk Wasp

Oct 26, 2016

On Halloween, all you ghosts and goblins will want to beware of the beautiful but deceiving  lady, the tarantula hawk wasp. She’s dressed up in shining blue-black with gossamer orange wings, her antennae elegantly curled.

Tarantula hawk
Credit Dyer Lytle

But it’s her painful sting and ghoulish behavior that tell of her true nature.

As an adult, a female tarantula hawk wasp sips the nectar of flowers like a hummingbird.  But when she finds a tarantula, she produces her venomous stinger, all the better to paralyze her prey. Then her babies, each a fat white grub, devour the tarantula from the inside out.

Both the wasp and the spider are denizens of the Colorado Plateau. When you’re out, you may see a tarantula hawk on the prowl for treats. She lands on the ground, waves her antennae, then gallops off among rabbitbrush and meadow grass on the scent of a tarantula.

Finding one, she taps it with her antennae.  Tarantulas usually don’t attack, but instead assume a defensive posture with forelegs raised. The hawk wasp lunges on the spider, seizes the forelegs in her jaws, and curls her pointed abdomen under it. With her wicked stinger, she delivers a dose of venom that quickly immobilizes the tarantula.

The hawk wasp drags the limp tarantula to her lair, where she lays a single egg on it, setting the table for a feast for her young.