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 

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A big hairy spider… Arizona Blond Tarantula

My eyes spotted a big hairy spider curled up at the front door. Upon closer look I saw it was a desert Tarantula. Arizona blond tarantulas are common during the Monsoon rainy season. I captured a picture of my tarantula friend before I attempted to move it to safety. Even though spiders, especially big hairy tarantula spiders give me the shakes….. I still want to honor nature and give this spider its freedom. As long as it is out of our front yard. 😉

female Arizona Blond Tarantula

The female tarantula spider is usually a uniform tan or light brown color with a stocky body; that is why this tarantula is sometimes called Arizona Blond.  More common names are desert tarantula or western tarantula.  The male desert tarantula spider has black legs, is thinner with black hair on his body and reddish hairs on his abdomen. I need a plan to move this tarantula without getting bit.  Although most tarantulas are harmless to humans;  this spider bite does hurt and can cause an extreme discomfort for a week or so.

Arizona Blond Tarantula hairy spider

In the above picture I used a large plastic bag to safely move the tarantula without harming it. Laying the bag over the yard fence and letting the Arizona Blond start her search for her tarantula mate.  All is good!

Arizona Blond Tarantulas, Aphonopelma chalcodes, belonging to the Theraphosidae family, are nocturnal predators that never venture far from their burrows unless it is mating season. It struck me odd that this large desert arachnid was at the front door.

this female blond tarantula is awaiting her mate and is safe from the confines of our yard

Her light brown, blond tarantula colors blend in quite well with the desert landscape and you can barely see this Arizona Blond Tarantula in the above photo.

Tarantulas live in dry, well-drained soils in open areas throughout the Sonoran desert and grassland areas. All North American tarantulas are ground-dwellers and live in burrows; although some other tarantula species live in trees. Male desert tarantulas mature when they are 10 to 12 years of age, at which time they leave their burrows in search of females.

The many Arizona tarantulas seen on the Sonoran Desert roads during the summer rains (July, August, September) are usually males searching for mates. The male tarantula does not survive long after his summer mating.