The tarantula hawks are a group of wasp species, a group of massive hideous wasp species to be precise. Tarantula hawks can be around 5 cm long, making them one of the biggest in the world of the wasp. Their stinger reaches up to 7mm in length and is considered the second most painful sting by an insect they fall short only of the bullet ant who gets the number one slot in the pain delivery top 10.
Tarantula hawks are fairly passive though, so humans rarely get stung.
These wasps have a pretty wide distribution, but we’re safe in Europe you’ll be pleased to hear. The tarantula hawks cover areas from India to Southeast Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas.
What makes the tarantula hawk so incredible is that it fights massive, horrible looking tarantulas. The female wasp paralyses the spider with it’s sting juice then drags it back to its nest. Once the comatose victim is back in the lair, the female lays a solitary egg in the creature’s abdomen.
The spider is still alive which means that when the baby tarantula hawk is born it has fresh meat to tuck into and literally eats the tarantula alive. Brutal, but rather enterprising. Here’s the epic battle between a tarantula hawk and a tarantula. Good luck Mr Spider, you’re gonna need it:
Once the baby becomes an adult it emerges from the spiders abdomen and flies off to reek havoc elsewhere. These wasps actually feed on nectar too, quite a disparate diet: live tarantulas and flower milk.
As for the sting, the pain apparently only lasts three minutes, but it’s an intense three minutes. One unlucky human to have experienced the wrath of a tarantula hawk is Justin O. Schmidt, a lord of the entomologists who created the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. He described the experience as
…immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations…… blinding, fierce [and] shockingly electric
No walk in the park then.
Not many animals are capable of eating the wasp as you can imagine. Nature has a bounty of insects to choose from, if you’ve got any sense at all you’ll plump for one that’s slightly less lethal. One animal that will have a pop at a tarantula hawk is the roadrunner. Call me stupid, but I didn’t realise that the road runner was a real bird until just now.
The roadrunner’s other name is the chaparral cock and it’s a type of ground cuckoo. The cartoon wasn’t lying either, some have been clocked hitting 20 mph on the ground!
They live in the deserts of the Southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America, just like in the cartoon. Here’s a short video of one being pestered by Americans: