Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

February 11, 2016
Tarantula wasps fight tarantulas

The tarantula wasp, also known as the tarantula hawk, is a two-inch wasp that is known for pursuing tarantulas in order to capture and provide food for their larvae. They are durably strong and are recognized by their black or bluish bodies, with noticeably bright or rusty-orange wings. Having an aposematic effect on animals, their orange wing color warns posing predators that they are weaponized and are going to hurt if eaten.

Though these wasps are not aggressive, non-deadly, and are reluctant to sting, they are not bluffing with their wing’s warning-signal. With stingers at a length up to 1/4 of an inch, their stings are described as utterly excruciating. It is also said that tarantula wasps have the most painful stingers in the United States and it is best to just leave them alone and not harass them. If that’s not convincing enough, they also rank to have the world’s second most painful sting.

Taking on tarantulas that range in size from 3-5 inches, it is the female tarantula wasps that begin pursuing these spiders once they are ready to reproduce. Mated female wasps will patrol the ground for a tarantula’s burrow after digging themselves a brooding nest, which is in preparation for the captured spider. Once a tarantula is located, the female and tarantula fight an entangling battle until one loses. In most cases after the tarantula has lost to the wasp’s paralyzing sting, the female then drags the helpless spider back to its brooding den. After laying a single egg on the tarantula, the female then seals the den’s entrance off, leaving the live but motionless spider with her egg. Eventually after hatching, the larva eats through the spider’s abdomen and overwinters inside it. Unfortunately for the tarantula, the larva purposely avoids eating the vital organs to keep the spider alive and fresh for as long as possible. After undergoing its pupa stage and several weeks of eating, the larva tarantula wasp becomes an adult and digs its way from the den to repeat the cycle.

Taylor Lindsay is a writer and photographer of creatures both big and small. She can be contacted at CritterChatter@live.com.

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