10 Impressive Facts About Tarantula Hawk Wasp

Wasps are feared enough as they are; the last thing you needed was a parasitoid, black wasp that feeds on tarantulas to spice up your nightmares. Yet, this wasp exists.

Today, we will discuss about the Tarantula Hawk Wasp, looking to highlight some of the most amazing facts about this amazing species.

Here are 10 of the most compelling facts about the Tarantula Hawk that you want to know:

1. This is a Parasitoid Insect

The Tarantula Hawk draws its name from its main victim – the tarantula. This wasp is the tarantula’s main predator in the wild, which is why it’s also often called a spider wasp.

The adult insect’s diet consists of nectar, making for an uncanny contrast when paired with the larvae’s feeding habits. The Tarantula Hawk’s reproductive cycle revolves around parasitizing a live, adult tarantula, and the process goes like this:

  • The female wasp will hunt down a tarantula and inject it with venom via its ¼ inch-long stinger
  • The agent will affect the spider’s nervous system, paralyzing it and rendering it vulnerable and motionless
  • The female will drag the immobile spider to its nest, lay an egg inside its abdomen, and cover the burrow, trapping the spider inside
  • The egg will hatch, and the Hawk larva will begin to feed on the spider’s insides (as a curious note, the larva will avoid the spider’s vital organs)
  • The spider will remain alive for several weeks, while the larva will slowly consume its insides and turn into a nymph, then an adult wasp, at which point the spider dies
  • The wasp will emerge from the spider’s carcass, and the whole process resets
  • The tarantula is defenseless against the Hawk’s formidable offensive strategy, which is why it relies on hiding to avoid it.

2. Tarantula Hawks are Antisocial

Tarantula wasps are solitary creatures that exhibit territorial behavior and will see any other wasp as an intruder. Males are especially territorial and will display aggression towards other males entering their territory. The 2 will settle the score via aerial fighting, and the loser will leave the area.

The fights aren’t too brutal, especially since males don’t possess a stinger. The 2 insects will poke each other, and the one who concedes the fight loses the territory.

3. The Most Painful Sting

The Tarantula Hawk is famous for its stinging capabilities. Not only is the wasp capable of stinging multiple times, but it will also deliver impressive quantities of venom. The venom itself isn’t dangerous to humans, but it will inflict severe pain, swelling, and soreness around the area.

The initial pain will last several minutes, but the aftermath may last for several days. The swelling and soreness, in particular, may go on for a week or more in some cases. Many people also experience recurring episodes of pain during this period.

4. The Risk of Anaphylactic Shock

The Hawk’s venom can cause anaphylactic shock in individuals who are more sensitive to the substance. This condition is the result of a severe allergy to the insect’s venom and may trigger symptoms like:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Elevated heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the mouth, face, and airways, etc.

Experiencing these symptoms calls for immediate professional treatment since anaphylactic shock can be deadly. Fortunately, few people show hypersensitivity to insect venom and the risk of you developing anaphylactic shock is extremely low.

5. Venom Causes Permanent Paralysis

This is an interesting fact that few people know. The Hawk’s venom will paralyze the tarantula permanently, keeping alive for weeks in the wasp’s burrow. This leads to a gruesome faith, as the wasp’s larva will consume the spider inside out over weeks.

Fortunately, the venom doesn’t have the same effect on humans or larger pets. Instead, it will only cause local discomfort in most cases and generalized discomfort in a few. It’s also good that the Tarantula wasp isn’t a social creature, given its aggressive nature and potent venom.

You would hate to run into a nest of several thousand wasps.

6. We Have No Idea How Tarantula Hawks Communicate

Since the Hawk wasp is a solitary insect, we know little about its social interactions with other Hawks. Researchers suggest that the wasps may use their coloring, flight pattern, pheromones, and even wing coloring to communicate to one another.

That being said, Hawk wasps typically have 2 reasons for interacting with other wasps:

  • Territorial reasons – That’s when 2 wasps meet, and one signal the other to leave the premises. If the intruder refuses, fight ensues.
  • Mating reasons – Males may signal females their intentions and, after some non-verbal back and forth, they may decide to mate. Or not, in which case the female wasp will become aggressive towards the male. Pretty much similar to humans.

7. Males Practice Hill-Topping

The notion of hill-topping describes the practice of the male Tarantula Hawk sitting on top of a tall plant, on the lookout for passing females. They use their senses to ‘sniff’ females’ pheromones, indicating that they are ready to mate. As soon as they’ve spotted the female, the male will make a run for it.

Hawk males will always protect their spot from other hawk males and become confrontational if anyone wanders too close.

8. The Tarantula Wasp Doesn’t Exist in Europe and Antarctica

The Tarantula wasp only lives in arid regions where tarantulas live. This includes Africa, Asia, Madagascar, and the 2 Americas. These are warm regions where spiders can thrive, tarantulas enjoy warmer environments where they can dig burrows and ambush their prey.

The wasp’s reproductive cycle overlaps the spiders’ lifestyle, which forces the 2 species to live in the same regions.

9. The Tarantula Wasp Has its Own Natural Predators

As dangerous and scary as the Tarantula wasp is, it still has natural predators capable of killing and eating it. Generally speaking, predators will avoid messing with the Hawk wasp due to its painful sting. Some animals, however, have developed specialized hunting behaviors that allow them to hunt the Hawk wasp successfully.

Some of these predators include the bullfrog and the roadrunner. Both are fearless creatures who have learned how to hunt and feed on venomous insects, including the Tarantula Hawk.

The bullfrog’s feeding mechanism avoids the wasp’s stinger, to begin with. The bullfrog uses its tongue as a slingshot, propelling it towards the prey with such a force that it usually kills on impact. If that doesn’t happen, the bullfrog will swallow the insect immediately anyway, giving the wasp little-to-no time to sting.

When swallowed, the venom is harmless since the gastric juices will break it down as with any other food.

On the other hand, the roadrunner will resort to a different tactic. This little and agile bird uses its beak to smash the insect and kill it before eating it. As with the frog, the venom is harmless when swallowed. Venom only takes effect when injected via a stinger or via a bite and ends up in the bloodstream.

Stomach juices will break down the venom in its constituent components, making it harmless. It’s the poison that will affect the victim when ingested.

10. Tarantula vs Tarantula Hawk Wasp

As we know by now, the tarantula is prey for the Tarantula Hawk wasp. However, that’s not always the case. The wasp isn’t 100% successful when it comes to killing the tarantula. Studies have pointed out that the Tarantula Wasp will kill the spider in 399 cases out of 400.

This leaves the tarantula one instance where it can either repel or kill the wasp. Rare, but it can happen. It’s highly unlikely, however, due to how the wasp operates.

The insect will attack the spider from above, lay on its back, and insect its venom into its abdomen. The venom is a paralytic agent that will instantly disarm the spider and allow the wasp to make use of its body.

Conclusion

The Tarantula Hawk wasp is a scary creature, but not as scary as some people make it out to be. It is a rather timid animal that would avoid confrontation as much as possible. It would rather spend its venom on its prey and in an unavoidable, life-threatening situation than spend it left and right, stinging everything.

So, if you see a Tarantula Hawk nearby, leave the area if possible. If not, kill it to prevent future accidents involving children or pets.

Wasps   Updated: January 20, 2022
avatar Welcome to Insectic, a blog to learn about insects and bugs. I'm Richard, and I've created this website to share my experience, knowledge, and passion with others.

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