What insect has one of the most PAINFUL stings? – meet the Tarantula Hawk wasp

Tarantula hawks, aka – pepsis wasps, are impressive with bright orange wings on a large velvety black body.  They feed on nectar from flowers but are most famous for their battles with tarantulas !!  The fearless tarantula hawk female that is ready to reproduce searches for a tarantula burrow…

tarantula hawk wasp fights spider
huge black wasp with orange wings

This tenacious pepsis wasp will tap and strum the web at the burrow entrance trying to coax the tarantula out.  If the tarantula responds, a long battle will begin!

Most often the tarantula hawk wins by delivering a paralyzing sting to the tarantula. The paralyzed tarantula is dragged to a pre-dug burrow and dropped in by the large female wasp.

black bug with orange wings fights tarantulas
male Tarantula Hawk aka pepsis wasp with orange wings

The tarantula hawk then lays a single egg on the paralyzed tarantula and leaves. The wasp larva will hatch and feed on the tarantula spider.  After completing its metamorphosis, in about 3 weeks, the adult pepsis wasp will then dig its way out of the underground burrow and start its life cycle anew.

tarantula hawk black wasp orange wings
large black bug that fight tarantulas are female pepsis wasps

Tarantula Hawks, have the second most painful sting of any insect.   Just how painful is the sting of the Tarantula Hawk?  The Schmidt Sting Pain Index rates insect stings from 1-4.  Africanized bees and hornets register 2.  Bullent Ants and Pepsis wasps register 4 !!

Only the female Tarantula Hawk stings because the stinger is derived from the ovipositor, the egg-laying organ.

huge wasp orange wings
pepsis wasp aka Tarantula Hawk

In the deserts of the southwestern US two species of Tarantula Hawks are common, pepsis formosa and pepsis thisbe.  The most common in Arizona is pepsis formosa wasp with the orange wings.

Hundreds of Tarantula Hawk Wasp species exist worldwide.  The color of the wings may very from species but the sting of the this killer wasp is described as blinding, fierce, and shockingly electric.  Simply unbearable pain, lasting 3 minutes.  A long 3 minutes!  Not lethal to humans unless you are allergic to pepsis wasps.

tarantula hawks huge bug with orange wings
pepsis black wasp with orange wings eats pollen

How to tell the difference between the male and female pepsis wasp?

  • The antennae of the male tarantula hawk is tightly curved while the FEMALE wasp is only SLIGHTLY curved.
giant wasp insect
female tarantula hawk wasp
  • Tarantula Hawk females grow larger than the males, and can reach up to 3 inches in length.

This youtube video is a battle between the Tarantula Hawk and Tarantula Spider.

Both female and male pepsis wasps are nectarivorous.  The male does not hunt but fills himself with the nectar of plants while watching for female tarantula hawks that are ready to reproduce.

Other than Roadrunners and Bullfrogs, most predators avoid the Tarantula Hawk wasp.

Little TIDBIT:  The tarantula hawk wasp is the state insect of New Mexico 

What insect looks like a green leaf? – true katydids – leaf bugs

Those green bugs that look like leaves are called true katydids.  Katydids enjoy all the leafy plants in our front yard.  We were so close to this wondrous green bug that we observed its mouth and eyes moving.

green leaf bug
Green bug that looks like a leaf

The British often call these leaf insects bush crickets.  Katydids or bush crickets are in the family Tettigoniidae.  They are not grasshoppers, katydids are related to crickets.  Grasshoppers have shorter antennae while family member tettigoniids have very long antennae.

katydid leaf bug
green bug that looks like a leaf

Katydids, True Katydids or Northern Katydids are insects that really do not like to fly!  To avoid danger they may leap out of a tree and parachute to the ground.  Katydids will walk to a vertical surface and start climbing.

The most common color of katydids is leaf green.  As a matter of fact, this bug is a master at camouflage with veins on its wings that look just like leaves.  Katydids eat flowers, stems and leaves of plants.  Some species will even eat other insects.

katydid
katydid green grasshopper like bug

Many species are commonly found throughout the southern part of the United States. These bush crickets, katydids are most active at night.

green katydid
green leaf insect – katydid

True Katydid species come in a variety of sizes from 1 to 4 inches.  Their antennae can be two times the length of their body.

katydid
True Katydid also called Bush Cricket, Northern Katydid

Male and female katydid sounds are made by rubbing their wings together to produce a song that is used as part of the courtship.  It sounds a bit like your fingernails moving across a comb.

green and pink katydid insects
true katydids are bugs that look like leaves

Interesting fact:  The Katydid’s hearing organ, tympana, ears, are on their front legs.

katydid
katydids look like a leaf insect

click on the short youtube video to hear the sounds of the katydid bugs

The life cycle of the katydid goes through three stages of development:

  1. egg
  2. nymph
  3. adult

The katydid egg is laid in the fall and hatches in the spring.  It will hatch as a nymph.

katydid nymph
katydid nymph, baby

The katydid nymph looks like the adult but without wings.  It will shed its skin several times as it becomes an adult.  The lifespan of the katydid is about 1 year.

young katydid baby
young katydid nymph

You may be the lucky few who get to see the rare pink katydid.  The lack of dark pigment, melanin, is the major difference between the pink and the green katydids.

pink katydid
rare pink katydid insect
pink and green leaf bugs
Pink Katydid with a green katydid

Melanin, is the same pigment that makes a panther black.  Like the pink katydid… would the lack of pigment make it similar to a pink panther?  No wonder The Pink Panther was bad at hiding; he had no camouflage!

 

Cormorants, crested ducks, cottonwood trees and more… at Fort Lowell Park in Arizona

Our Arizona travels brought us not only to a gentle bird refuge; but the historical Fort Lowell Park in Tucson.  This wildlife oasis streaming with ducks, cormorants, turtles and dragonflies was an United States Army post from 1873 till 1891.

City of Tucson Ft Lowell historic park
Fort Lowell’s wildlife pond in AZ

The most prominent building at Fort Lowell was the hospital, the adobe remnants still stand under a protective structure.

Arizona parks for wildlife, bird watching
Tucson’s historic Ft Lowell in 1900

Ft. Lowell lay in ruins for numerous years. The City of Tucson eventually converted the bulk of the former post into Old Fort Lowell Park, which features ball fields, tennis and racquetball courts, a large public swimming pool, and the Fort Lowell Museum dedicated to its days as an active military installation.

**This is a superb choice if you are looking for Tucson activities.

Tucson Parks with history and wildlife birds
adobe remains of Fort Lowell military installation

A lane lined with cottonwood trees, aptly named Cottonwood Lane, glorified the area in front of the officer’s houses.

Historic Cottonwood Lane in Tucson Arizona
large Cottonwood Tree at Ft Lowell Park

Following World War II, the Fort Lowell area grew into a small village which the predominantly Mexican local residents called El Fuerte.

The Fort Lowell Museum is located in the reconstructed Commanding Officer’s quarters.

Stroll from the remains of the Ft Lowell Hospital towards the wildlife pond to enjoy crested ducks with the latest updos.

ducks with hair on their head in Tucson
Brown colored Crested Duck

Catch a glimpse as a pigeon tries to remember the secret code to get passed the duck security.

Fort Lowell park in Tucson, AZ
pigeon stand off with ducks

Dedicated community members adopted Fort Lowell Park to keep it clean and build a protected area for birds.

During our visit we spoke with some of the impressive volunteers with “Friends of Fort Lowell Park” as they were planting trees and tidying up the nesting area.

Tucson Arizona wildlife park with water
nesting area created by Friends of Fort Lowell Park

A regal Neotropic Cormorant bird was standing by to make sure we didn’t decide to jump in and go swimming.

bird watching parks in Tucson Arizona
neotropic cormorants at Ft Lowell Park

Many species of cormorants make a characteristic half-jump as they dive and under water cormorants propel themselves with their feet.

wildlife oasis park in Tucson Arizona desert
community effort at Fort Lowell Park

Thanks to the collaboration of The Friends of Fort Lowell Park and Tucson Parks and Recreation for giving residents and guests a place to enjoy outdoor activities and wildlife in the Sonoran Desert.

tennis handball swimming park in the Arizona desert
Parks to visit in Tucson – Ft Lowell Park

Local historians have found evidence that Fort Lowell Park sits on a site endowed with a continuous supply of underground water and has been occupied by humans since ancient times.

Arkenstone Cave in AZ – Protected living cave at Colossal Park

Arkenstone Cave was discovered near the Rincon Mountains of Southeastern Arizona in the 1960’s.  This living cave is protected by the county and accessible only to a few scientists and researchers.

wet live cave in Arizona
Arkenstone Cave in Arizona

We have spent a great deal of time investigating information regarding Arkenstone and La Tetera Caves.  Our most important finding has been the fact that Pima County regards these living caves as treasure troves of precious, immeasurable scientific information.

Access is extremely limited; but a visit to Colossal Cave Mountain Park Museum can provide the curious with results of the past and latest research conducted inside Arkenstone Cave.

Here are some of the research highlights provided from the Museum Caving Rooms at Colossal Cave east of Tucson, AZ.

Colossal Cave Mountain Park
Arkenstone Cave is used for research

ARKENSTONE is an active KARST CAVE, which means the breaking down of limestone has produced fissures, sinkholes, caverns and underground streams.

Most caves are formed in limestone.  Simply put, it dissolves from precipitation mixing with carbon dioxide and the decaying organic material in the soil.  This dissolution process is extremely slow.  Thousands upon thousands of years!

Arkenstone karst caves
Karst diagram, Limestone Caves

Karst image courtesy of  www.geocaching.com

Arkenstone, La Tetera and Colossal Caves are located in Colossal Cave Mountain Park, Arizona.  Colossal Cave is dry and considered a dead cave.  La Tetera and Arkenstone are alive and adorned with calcium carbonate formations produced through slow precipitation.

SPELEOTHEMS in Arkenstone Cave
Arkenstone Cave Crystal formations

Mineral deposits in caves are called SPELEOTHEMS.

ARKENSTONE CAVE is called:

  • a WILD cave
  • a WET cave
  • a LIVE, “active” cave

What does this mean… A wild cave has no provisions for the general public and is dangerous without expert equipment and experience.  A wet cave has precipitation.

Colossal Cave Mountain Park Caves
Tower Coral, crystal formations on the floor of Arkenstone Cave

A live cave has life forms, insects, faunal, animal, species and unusual speleothems.

Pima County and Colossal Park employees have an overwhelming desire and responsibility to protect La Tetera and Arkenstone living Caves.

research caves protected in Pima County
species found in Arkenstone Cave, Colossal Mountain Park, AZ

Several new species have been found in Arkenstone that are endemic to Arkenstone, meaning they only exist in Arkenstone Cave.  A few researchers have special grants to work in these living Arizona Caves.

In recent years, 7 new species of fauna have been found.  The Arkenstone Cave exhibit at Colossal Mountain Park Museum gives detailed descriptions.

Arizona Wet Caves, Arkenstone
research at Arkenstone Cave

Animals that live in caves are often put in the category called TROGLOBITESTroglobitic species tend to be very unusual organisms.  For example, they may have loss of pigment or no eyes.  These characteristics would be adaptations to their subterranean life.

live caves in Arizona
Pseudoscorpion found in Arkenstone Cave

A previously unknown species of pseudoscorpion was discovered in Arkenstone.  The pseudoscorpion has since been listed as one of Pima County’s priority vulnerable species!

vampire bats in Arkenstone Cave
Bat Bones found in Arkenstone Cave

A small, late Quaternary, (about 2 million yrs ago), deposit of degraded bat guano (poop) in Arkenstone Cave yielded thousands of fossil bat bones.

Colossal Park living caves, La Tetera Arkenstone
Arkenstone Cave Exhibit and research

Rarer bones in the deposit represent a smaller species of bat (Myotis) and the extinct vampire bat Desmodus stocki.

This is the first record of D. stocki in what is now the Sonoran Desert and the second location for the vampire bat species in Arizona.

Rincon Mountains Arkenstone Living Cave
Extinct Vampire Bat found in Arkenstone Cave

Due to leaching in the alkaline cave environment, the bones could not be dated by radiocarbon, but the fossils probably date to the late Pleistocene Age  —  (Late Pleistocene Bats from Arkenstone Cave, Arizona by Nicholas Czaplewski and William Peachey, December 2003)

The Late Pleistocene age was dominated by glaciation  Many larger land animals, MEGAFAUNA, became extinct over this ICE AGE.  Experts estimated that 30% of the Earth’s surface was covered by ice.  Pleistocene vampire bats most likely were capable of surviving in cooler temperatures than the modern bats of today.

The extinction of Desmodus stocki paralleled the extinction of the megafauna.

Pleistoncene Ice Coverage on Earth
Photo of Earth during the Ice Age, The Pleistocene

Research indicates that Arkenstone Cave was the site of a maternity colony of Myotis thysanodes.  Myotis thysandoes is a larger species of bat, mammal.  These bats begin nursing colonies, female nurse bats remain at the roost while other adults are out foraging.

Arkenstone, La Tetera Cave Arizona
extinct vampire bat, Desmodus stocki

Virtually all of the bones collected were of that species.  Remains of Desmodus are consistent with a single individual, and those of a small Myotis (bat) consistent with two individuals (Czaplewski and Peachey 2003).

altruistic example, bats
Arkenstone Cave discovery of extinct vampire bats

Desmodus stocki was 20% larger than the still extant common vampire bat.   Lets put aside the scary name, VAMPIRE, and let me share some benevolent behavior of Vampire Bats that may gain your admiration for the Pleistocene bat, Desmodus Stocki.

Vampire Bats are one of the few animal species that show caring behavior for those beyond their family group.  They even adopt orphaned bats and will share their food.  Look at the photo above for more altruistic vampire ways.  🙂

vampire bats, Arkenstone Cave
common vampire bat skull, teeth

Scientists state that fossil records of Desmodus stocki are uncommon because these bats mainly roosted in hollow trees and any remains would decay along with the wood.

Arkenstone Cave Arizona
new species found in Arkenstone and Kartchner Caves

photo above is courtesy of  Journal of Cave and Karst Studies

A new species of Nicoletiidae (Insecta: Zygentoma) has been discovered in Arkenstone and Kartchner Caves.  This species pictured above lives in deeper areas of Arkenstone Cave than it does in Kartchner.
The 2 caves are approximately 23 miles apart and in isolated Karst areas with no possible connection to each other.
Rincon Mountains Caves Arizona
Caves at Colossal Cave Mountain Park
You would think that these would be different species?  But so far the research shows they are the same.  How amazing is that?
caves at Colossal Mountain Park in Vail AZ
Arkenstone Cave
Cave species are very fragile and some live in a specific cave and no where else in the world.   These TROGLOBITES are accustomed to a near constant temperature and humidity.  Even the slightest disturbance can disrupt the life cycles of these amazing species.
Arizona active wild caves, Arkenstone
Crystal formations in Arkenstone Cave
As updated research becomes available we will add new articles.
fringed myotis is found across the western United States.
The fringed myotis is found across the western United States. It has been found as far east as the Trans-Pecos region of Texas during summer months, as far north as British Columbia and as far south as Mexico.
The fringed myotis is found across the western United States. It has been found as far east as the Trans-Pecos region of Texas during summer months, as far north as British Columbia and as far south as Mexico.

Damselflies mating, laying eggs in our pond – Life and behavior of the Damselfly

The female damselfly is laying her eggs.  Mating season for the Damselflies in our pond has begun. Just last week the nymphs emerged from the pond water to shed their skin and become colorless damselflies.  As the young damselfly matures it will gain a beautiful color. The adult damselfly only lives one to three months; its main job is to find a mate and continue the life cycle.

See the photo below of the damselflies mating.  It starts with the male damselfly grasping the female with his abdominal claspers.  The same species of damselfly with fit like a lock and key.

damselflies mating

Copulation can take from several minutes to several hours depending on the species.  The male damselfly stays in tandem with the female while she lays her eggs. I watched as the red damselfly gently carried his bride to an inviting lily-pad.

female looking for the water to lay eggs

This dedicated female damselfly, pictured above, was moving her abdomen every which way to try and find the water.

off they go to try again

If the female damselfly could not find water to lay her eggs she would straighten her abdomen as if to signal lift off to her partner.  The male Damselfly would gently lift her to another location.

double wedding for damselflies

Female damselflies normally use a bladelike ovipositor to place eggs inside plant tissue. From previous years I have seen the larva of the damselflies underneath the lily pads.  When you turn the lily pad over you will see lines and markings with the damselfly eggs.

injecting eggs under the lily pad

After about three weeks the young damselfly nymphs emerge and live underwater, insatiably feeding on small aquatic animals like tadpoles, mosquito larvae and just about anything it can get a hold of.

The damselfly and dragonfly nymphs are completely predatory, and not vegetarians at all.

As the female damselfly lays her eggs she is also supplying a healthy meal for our fish.  We have three large goldfish, some say Koi, that will feast on the nymphs all year.  During this mating season I do not have to add any fish food to the pond.

damselfly nymph

Many successive molts take place over a period of eleven months before the final nymphal stage is reached.  The mature dragonfly nymph crawls out of the water onto a rock or plant stem during the night or early morning hours.

The nymphal skin splits dorsally and the winged damselfly adult pulls itself out to become fully expanded.  It will take several days before it reaches top flight capacity.

Damselflies have been used as indicator species for assessing habitat and water quality in a variety of wetlands, natural water in forests, and lakeshore habitats around the world.  Studies indicate they are one of our most beneficial insects.

Do Damselflies sting?  No damselflies are not capable of stinging and are harmless to man.


Damselflies are smaller than Dragonflies-damselfly nymphs are the best fish food for our small Arizona pond

The damselfly’s scientific name is Zygoptera, it is Greek for paired wings.  Our pond with fish is visited by a dragonfly now and then; but we receive daily stopovers from red and blue damselflies resting on the lily pads.  Even though a damselfly is similar to a dragonfly, it is a weaker flier, but still very fast and agile.  Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the order Odonata which is one of the most popular insect groups.

Blue slender Damselfly image

Having approximately 5,000 species, the Odonata order(a subgroup of insects), is very diverse and it is easy to spot the insect members. Odonata insects have very large eyes, thin transparent wings, tiny antennae, slender abdomens and an aquatic larval stage called a NYMPH.

An easy way to tell if an insect is a part of the Odonata Order – if the insect’s eyes are a large portion of the head and if the abdomen is thin and long.

light purple and blue damselfly

Damselflies have long thin bodies that are often brightly colored with green, yellow, red, blue, brown or black.  In the above photo the damselfly has a unique light purple color.  The color glistened almost pearl-like as she elegantly flew from lily-pad to lily-pad.

What is the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly?  Dragonflies are more stout and when perched their wings extend out sideways.  The damselfly is a bit slender and when resting damselflies hold their wings above the body.  Compare the images of the thin damselfly above and the stout dragonfly below.

Damselflies are found mainly near shallow, freshwater habitats and are graceful fliers with long net veined wings.  We have a small pond with three goldfish/Koi that are grateful to the Damselflies for the abundant fish food they provide.  Dragonflies and damselflies begin their lives as nymphs, living underwater for a year of more.

To attract damselflies and not mosquitoes to your pond simple use a powerful pond pump, filter system. Mosquitoes do not like moving water and will not lay eggs in your pond if you have a good pump.  The damselflies like to perch on vegetation, so include tall plants in or around your pond area along with lily pads.

chunky dragonfly picture

Damselflies are cousins of the dragonfly.  Their colours can be stunningly vivid.  The adults capture prey while flying; by using their hair covered hind legs.  Damselflies hold the prey in their legs and consume it by chewing.

Both dragonflies and damselflies begin their lives as nymphs, living underwater for a year of more.  The nymphs make the best food for your fish.  The presence of dragonflies and damselflies, at your pond, is an indication of a good quality ecosystem.

damselflies compete

In the above photo the damselflies are competing for the water lilies in our small pond.  Zygoptera, Damselflies, copulate while perched, sometimes flying to a new perch. Mating for the damselfly while perched can last from five to ten minutes.  Competition amongst males for females is fierce.  The picture below is the position for copulating/mating damselflies.

mating damselflies

The damselfly mates/partners fit together like a lock and key, in this way they can recognize the correct species when mating.  The female damselfly’s thorax and the male abdomen vary slightly for each species of Zygoptera.  The males have four appendages at the tip of the abdomen. Two of them are claspers, used to hold onto the female damselfly during mating.

Each male damselfly has his own territory and will defend it.  When it is time to mate the female damselfly will enter the male’s territory.

When finished copulating, the female flies away, and finds herself a pond or other water body, where she will lay her eggs.  Female damselflies normally use a bladelike ovipositor to place eggs inside plant tissue.  Currently in our pond we have the last molting of the nymphs taking place.  The damselfly mating and egg laying should start in the next week or so.  It is a banquet for the fish in our pond that is repeated over and over.  The larva or nymph will spend an average of 1-3 years in the water and feed on other larva or tiny insects.

damselfly nymph in our pond

Most damselfly nymphs have three leaflike gills at the tip of the abdomen, whereas dragonflies have internal gills.  A damselfly had its last molting and pictured above is the skin that was left. The damselfly nymph photo was taken today.  After emerging from the larval stage, the damselfly takes to the air to feed and mate.  Today I noticed the lily pads in our small pond are chock-full of these damselfly molting skins.  A large, colorful population of damselflies are frolicking about the irises, lilies, philodendron and other potted plants.

molting skins of nymphs in our pond

If you see these nymph skins in your pond it is a good thing.  Actually a great thing!  This means your pond is healthy and should be visited by many damsel or dragonflies that will mate, lay eggs and start the process all over again.

The female damselfly deposits her eggs in emergent plants, floating vegetation or directly in the water.  Naiads or nymphs hatch from eggs and live in water.  The damselfly nymphs or naiads develop through stages with the last stage crawling out of the pond, water and emerging from the last molting skin.  The two pictures above are molted skins left on the lily pads of our pond.  The adult damselfly only lives one to three months, while the nymphs can live up to three years in the water depending on the species.

damselfly life cycle

(Photo above courtesy of http://www.britannica.com/ )

The photo above shows the Life Cycle of the damselfly

The greatest numbers of the Odonata Order species, dragonflies and damselflies,  are found at sites that offer a wide variety of microhabitats, though dragonflies tend to be much more sensitive to pollution than damselflies.