Nature Watch: "Tarantula Wasp"


Last updated 11/9/2023 at 11:54am

Fall is tarantula season in Southern California and desert travelers may see more of the large, hairy spiders out looking for a mate this time of the year.

That also means you might encounter a large, colorful wasp that is one of the tarantula's primary predators.

Known as the tarantula hawk, tarantula wasp or spider wasp, it's hard to miss this striking insect buzzing about looking for its prey.

The relationship between spider and wasp is a fascinating one.

This large wasp, measuring up to two inches in length with a dark blue-black body and bright red to orange wings, has a powerful sting that does not kill, but instead paralyzes the tarantula.

The bright colors of this insect serve as a warning to predators that they pack a powerful punch with a sting that is quite painful. And, while they are not aggressive to humans, an inadvertent encounter could result in a very unpleasant sting.

Their sting has been described as "immediate, unrelenting and excruciating that shuts down one's ability to do anything except scream." If there is any good news, the pain lasts only a few minutes.

If you'd confirm this, there are several YouTube videos illustrating the power of a tarantula wasp sting.

Because of this, most animals avoid the tarantula wasp, with the roadrunner being one of the few exceptions. They seem well adapted to feeding on them without harm.

The paralyzing sting of the tarantula wasp is part of their breeding cycle.

The female wasp stings and paralyzes a tarantula and then drags the large spider into an underground nest where she lays a single egg.

When the egg hatches, the larvae bores into the spider and uses it as a food source for several weeks until emerging as an adult wasp.

Tarantula wasps are common in Anza-Borrego, in fact through San Diego County, wherever tarantulas are found.

With their large size and color wings, they are easy to identify, and enjoy from a distance.

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