Tarantula wasps are categorized as spider wasps, named for their propensity to hunt and parasitize tarantulas. Tarantula hawks exhibit have black bodies with rusty, ochre-colored wings. In a certain light, they may appear blue-black or purple, with red wings. Tarantula hawks are some of the largest wasps recorded — measuring 5 centimeters, on average (in extreme cases, wasps have been measured at 11 centimeters). Their legs have hooked barbs for snagging onto prey. The average stinger length has been measured at 7 millimeters (⅓ inch), and rated as one of the most painful stings in the world. The sting is used to paralyze preyfor parasitizing, typically as food for the larvae.Interestingly, the size of the host spider that the wasp’s eggs will parasitize affects the size of the adult wasp.
Wasps of this species can be observed during the typical months of the pollinator life cycle— late spring through late summer— in fields, meadows, yards, and human structures (for example, barns). However, mating occurs on high ridges or tree branches.
Tarantula hawks are found throughout the southwest, ranging as far north as the California-Oregon border. Where tarantulas are, this species will be found. In addition to being nectar feeders, these wasps may also drink fruit juice. Despite a fearsome reputation, these wasps are not aggressive, refraining from a sting unless provoked or unless you are a tarantula.Tarantula wasps have been known to fly in a wide radius and search their surroundings extensively. This bold behavior is attributed to their lack of natural predators.
Written by: Robert Gibson, an undergraduate Environmental Studies student at the University of Oklahoma