Tarantula Hawk, or scientifically known as Pompilidae, is one of nature’s deadliest creatures to ever walk the earth. They are spider wasps that like to prey on Tarantula, hence the name Tarantula Hawk. Although small in comparison to humans, they are actually one of the largest parasitoid wasps, a type of wasp that lay their eggs in bodies of other arthropods and cause them death. That’s not all, because there are lots of other Tarantula Hawk facts that will surprise you.
Despite their small stature, you should be really wary when you come in contact with one of them. Most of the time, the poison won’t be deadly to humans. However, it won’t stop from causing you unbearable pain! Although it is rare for Tarantula Hawks to attack humans, there’s no harm in learning some facts about this scary animal, right?
1. Tarantula Hawks are Part of the Pompilidae Family
Now let’s start our list of Tarantula Hawk facts with the fact that it’s unique. Tarantula Hawks are unique indeed, due to their deadly sting and behavior. However, they do belong in the Pompilidae family, which is a large family of slender wasps. People also know them as spider wasps, spider-hunting wasps, or pompilid wasps.
Now let’s talk specifically about Tarantula Hawks. They have a slender body that is usually black, as well as yellowish or smoky wings. Normally, they can grow to a size of 1 to 2.5 cm long. Even though their movement is aerial, they can also run with their long and spiny legs.
2. Tarantula Hawks can be Found in Every Continent Except Europe and Antarctica
Like most wasps, we can easily find Tarantula Hawks can in so many different parts of the planet, and that’s a fact. Most of their population depends on the density of tarantulas, which are their favorite prey. In the United States of America, you can find many of these creatures in the deserts of the Southwest. One species, which is the pepsis thisbe, can be seen on the South Rim and inside the Grand Canyon.
Although Tarantula Hawks can live in practically any habitat, there haven’t been any sightings of them in Europe and Antarctica. There is no particular reason behind their lack of presence in Europe, though you can assume that they can’t stand the freezing temperature of the Antarctic continent.
3. Only Female Tarantula Hawk Sting
Most female insects are the only ones that can sting. That same rule (or shall we say duties) also applies to Tarantula Hawks. As mentioned before, female Tarantula Hawks need to inject their eggs inside a spider. Therefore, male won’t feel the need to sting tarantulas and hunt them down. After all, males don’t have any stingers either! If you want to differentiate them by gender, you can see that the male have straight antennae, while females have curly ones.
4. Pepsis Grossa, the Official State Insect of New Mexico
Tarantula Hawks are quite popular in New Mexico. In fact, it’s so popular that one species, pepsis grossa, became the official state insect since 1989. The decision was initiated by an elementary school teacher in Edgewood, New Mexico, Ruth Bradford. What began as a science lesson for her students suddenly turned into a campaign to make pepsis grossa into the official state insect.
Back then, Bradford and her students drew up ballots and sent them out to elementary schools all across the state. Out of 10,000 votes from fourth to sixth graders, 6,000 votes were directed to this awesome wasp. However, the effort was nearly lost when the initiative became known as House Bill No. 468. Back then, a member of the committee named Ruben Smith was against the idea, and proposed to include cockroaches instead. Fortunately, the bill still passed and the rest is history!
5. Pepsis Heros: the Largest Wasp on the Planet
There are a lot of different Tarantula Hawks on the planet. Previously, we have learned about pepsis grossa. Now, you will also see the mighty pepsis hero, otherwise known as the largest wasp on the planet.
Pepsis hero is also commonly known as the giant Tarantula Hawk wasp. They originated from the Yanachaga-Chemillen National Park in Peru, and has a wingspan of 121.5 mm and a curved body length of c. 62 mm. This is, of course, the female giant Tarantula Hawk. And most commonly, females are larger in size than the males.
6. Tarantula Hawk Preys on Tarantula, but They Do Not Eat Them
Tarantula Hawks earn that name because they are renowned for hunting tarantulas down. However, it is really interesting to learn that they aren’t actually carnivores. In fact, they are nectavores who drink nectar from flowers. So, why bother catching tarantulas, and how do they do it?
An adult female Tarantula Hawk will catch a tarantula by paralyzing them with its stinger. Then, they will transport the spider back to its nest. While adult Tarantula Hawks are not carnivores, they are still considered as parasitoid wasps. It means that they will lay eggs inside the tarantula’s abdomen. Once the larvae come to life, they will continue to feed the still alive spider while avoiding vital organs to keep it alive as long as possible. Unfortunately for the tarantula, the adult wasp has already covered the nest, hence escape is impossible.
7. Tarantula Hawks are the Second Most Painful Stings in the World
Don’t try to play with fire and get yourself in trouble because a Tarantula Hawk stings you. We guarantee you that it will be one of the worst experiences you might have in your life. In fact, its sting was ranked as the second deadliest in the world, according to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. It just loses out to the South American bullet ant. If the bullet ant stings you, the pain will last for almost 24 hours, while a Tarantula Hawk’s sting will only affect you for around five minutes.
Once the Tarantula Hawk’s sting gets into your body, there is nothing that you can do except lie down and scream. Fortunately, it isn’t deadly enough to kill us. Unlike tarantulas, vertebrates like humans also won’t be paralyzed.
8. Tarantula Hawks Won’t Hurt Humans, But…
You will be happy to learn that Tarantula Hawks won’t attack humans out of nowhere. Cool fact, right? They won’t budge and won’t be afraid of us, even when we want to approach them, unless we choose to provoke them to some extent.
Although you may feel safer after learning about this fact, there’s still no harm in learning to dispose of them, should their number increase in your area and be of disturbance. Using insecticide dust or spraying the nest might be a good idea. If you want to avoid using harmful chemicals, you can also use traps made out of sweet sodas.
9. Roadrunners and Bullfrogs are the Only Animals to be Brave Enough and Take Them On
Can you imagine a way to kill a Tarantula Hawk with our bare hands? It’s safe to say that it’s near impossible. However, roadrunners and bullfrogs might have a different idea. They can even bash and render them senseless before swallowing the Tarantula Hawk. Not only that, it seems that roadrunners can also steal a paralyzed tarantula and eat them while ignoring the wasp. Pretty brave, huh?
10. Lifespan of a Tarantula Hawk is Very Short
Nothing lasts forever. Even one of the deadliest animals to roam our planet has an expiry date, and what a short one it is! Normally, male Tarantula Hawks may live a few weeks. Female Tarantula Hawks have a much longer life expectancy, as they are able to live for four to five months.
Even though their life cycle is quite short, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that they went through a lot of transformation before transitioning into an adult. After a tarantula egg hatches (usually 3-4 days after placed inside a spider), they will feed on the tarantula through several instars before pupating. The process might take two to three weeks before a new adult Tarantula Hawk emerges.
11. Other Insects Loves to Mimic Tarantula Hawks
Tarantula Hawks are so cool and deadly that other animals are trying to mimic their movements and behaviors. In fact, mimicry is actually beneficial in the wild, as animals can catch their prey by taking on more dangerous species’ characteristics. An obvious example is the Wyliea mydas, otherwise known as the robber fly.
For robber flies, mimicking a Tarantula Hawk isn’t a hard task. In fact, it also has orange wings like Tarantula Hawks. However, flies only have a couple of wings, while wasps have four. Besides that, robber flies’ sting isn’t as deadly as tarantula hawks. Nevertheless, they still mimic tarantula hawk’s movements in order to obtain prey.
12. Adult Tarantula Hawks are also Famous as “Hill-topping”
Adult male Tarantula Hawks are famous for a unique behavior which is “hill-topping” and this is the last Tarantula Hawk fact that we have for you. Normally, they will perch on top of a plant and watch other females while waiting to reproduce. The term hill-topping is also known for the area itself, because they tend to have their reproducing and mating on a high point of an area, hence the name hilltop. Besides hilltops, they also love to mate on other distinctive topographic sites like vegetation and forest edges.