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The tarantula hawk is a common desert wasp of the Southwest, but can be found anywhere its prey, the tarantula, is found. It uses its venom to paralyze a tarantula and then lays its eggs on the spider. The larvae will then feed on the spider when they hatch.
The tarantula hawk’s sting causes little damage, but is reputed to be the most painful of any insect found in North America. Only females can sting – and its stinger can be as long as 1/3 inch. Males are harmless.
Facts about the Tarantula Hawk
Arizona is home to a number of species of wasps that thrive in the hot desert climate including spider wasps. Spider wasps are long-legged, solitary wasps that use a single spider as a host for feeding their larvae. The most well-known species of the spider wasp in Arizona is the Pepsis wasp, better-known as the tarantula hawk.
The tarantula hawk is one of the largest species of wasps and can grow to be up to two inches long. It is identified by its large dark body, bright red or orange wings and long legs ending in hooked claws. Unlike most wasps, these wasps do not tend to form colonies, but rather they live alone in burrows underground. They are usually found flying low to the ground or crawling on the ground in search of a tarantula burrow.
Tarantula hawks feed on nectar, but reproduce in a particularly morbid fashion. After mating, when the female is ready to lay her eggs, the wasp searches the ground for tarantulas or occupied tarantula burrows. When she finds a tarantula she stings it, injecting a paralyzing venom into the spider. She then drags the tarantula to a burrow and stuffs it down the hole, lays her eggs on top of the paralyzed spider and buries it alive. Several days later the eggs hatch and the larvae feed on the still living tarantula.
The sting of this wasp is considered the most painful sting in North America, and the second most painful in the world (according to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index) second to the Bullet Ant of Central & South America. The sting is described as “blinding, fierce, and shockingly electric. However, they are not aggressive and you usually need to handle the wasp to get stung.
Tarantula hawks are not aggressive or prone to stinging and most experts recommend that such wasps simply be left alone and preventive measures be taken to keep the wasps from getting into your home or stinging someone.
It is, however, important to correctly identify a wasp that is found around your home. Because social wasps do build nests and form colonies, it is advised that a pest control professional be contacted to assist in treatment of wasp infestations.
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Conquistador Pest Control knows effective methods for getting rid of wasps, how to get rid of wasp nests, and preventing wasps from building future nests in the same location. Contact Conquistador Pest to help you with wasps and other pest control services. We also provide termite control and weed control.