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tarantula hawk

Tarantula Eagle Facts

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"Not a bird, but a wasp with a powerful stinger."

The tarantula hawk wasp got its name because it likes to hunt, like a bird of prey. In this case, the prey was a tarantula or a large, well-fed spider. Instead of eating the tarantula, the wasp paralyzes it, drags it into its burrow, and lays its eggs on it. When the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the spider's body, but are careful not to eat any vital organs before pupating. It then shows up like the chest blaster in Alien and continues the life cycle of the Tarantula Hawk.

But that's not the only scary thing about this peaceful insect that feeds on pollen and nectar. The sting of a female tarantula hawk is one of the most painful stings known to man. Fortunately, all it does is cause a few minutes of pain without any aftereffects, letting the person or animal know that the wasp can never be messed with again.

Five Unbelievable Tarantula Hawk Facts!

Here's a little to know about the charming tarantula hawk wasp:

  • An insect called Pepsis grossa is New Mexico's state bug.
  • The stinger of P. grossa can be as long as 9/32 inch.
  • Because of the wasp's sting, most animals that feed on it leave it alone. The only animals that seem to be able to handle it are roadrunners, kingbirds, and bullfrogs. The roadrunner seems to knock the insect unconscious before it can swallow it, and will even steal a paralyzed tarantula while ignoring the wasp. However, tarantula hawks are only a small part of a roadrunner's diet.
  • As with other Hymenoptera , only the females sting. They can be distinguished from males by their curly antennae. The antennae of males are usually straight.
  • Tarantula hawks don't live long. Males live only a few weeks, while females only live about four or five months.
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evolution and history

Tarantulas belong to the larger and diverse genus Hymenoptera and are actually a species of spider in the family Araneidae . The oldest known fossils are those from the early Eocene, 55.8 to 33.9 million years ago.

species type and scientific name

Largest Insect - Tarantula Hawk
The tarantula hawk is a very dangerous wasp that is often seen eating tarantulas.

©Sari ONeal/Shutterstock.com

Tarantula hawks belong to two genera, Pepsis and Hemipepsis , and are actually a species of spider wasp in the family Pompilidae . Pepsis means "to digest" in Greek and is the root of Pepsi. Hemipepsis means "half digested." Perhaps this refers to the terrifying way the larvae digest their supply of tarantulas over time. There may be 175 species of Hemipepsis and 312 species of Pepsis . In addition to those mentioned above, they also include:

  • violets
  • Pepsi
  • fringe lily
  • Pepsi
  • Pepsi
  • Brunner's galactose
  • half hay
  • semidigestive bacteria
  • hemiplegia
  • semidigested thione


Tarantula hawks are easy to identify. They are very large wasps that can grow up to two inches long. They have black bodies and wings that are orange and sometimes black. Pepsis wasps can sometimes be distinguished from Hemipepsis wasps because their bodies are iridescent, which is not common in Hemipepsis wasps. They can be found on flowers that eat nectar and pollen, and they can also walk on the ground in search of tarantulas. The males fly to the highest position on the plant, waiting to receive the arrival of the female.

Tarantula hawks can grow up to two inches long.



These wasps can be found in arid and semi-arid open areas and tropical rainforests. Where there are tarantulas, there are them. They are solitary animals that dig burrows for themselves and eventually for their larvae. They can also drink nectar from flowers during the day.

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Tarantula hawk on flower
Tarantula hawks drink nectar and eat pollen.


Tarantula hawks are nectar-eaters, drinking nectar and eating the pollen of flowers, especially milkweed, mesquite, and saponaria. When they visit these plants, tarantula hawks pollinate them. Their pollination of milkweed is particularly important to the survival of the monarch butterfly, which also pollinates the plant and uses it as a host plant for caterpillars.

Tarantula hawks also eat fermented fruit and sometimes get drunk. The adult wasps do not eat the tarantulas, but set them aside for their young to eat.

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about the author

I was born in New York, got my journalism degree from Boston University, took a detour to San Diego, and am now back in New York. I love traveling with my husband, but always miss my favorite little Peanuts, half Chihuahua/half Jack Russell, all the trouble. We are certified to dive so one day we can dive with great white sharks and I hope I can swim with orcas too. If my house fits it, I'll add a pig – or a sloth.

Tarantula Eagle FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are tarantula hawks dangerous?

Tarantula hawks can be dangerous because their sting is debilitating. However, the pain lasts only a few minutes and has no lasting effect other than memory.

How many legs does a tarantula hawk have?

Like most insects, tarantula hawks have six legs. They consist of the hip bone closest to the body, followed by the trochanter, femur, tibia, and tarsus. Like most other insects, the wasp has claws at the end of its tarsal bones, but its claws are so well developed that it can drag a large, heavy tarantula across the ground.

How do you identify a tarantula hawk?

The tarantula hawk can be identified by its iridescent blue-black body and orange or rust-colored wings. These colors are to warn predators that this insect does have a powerful sting and to leave it alone. It is also an unusually large wasp that can grow up to 2 inches long. Females also have unusually long stingers.

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Where do tarantula hawks live?

Tarantula hawks are found all over the world except Europe and Antarctica. In the United States, most species are found in the desert scrub of the Southwest.

What is a tarantula hawk?

The tarantula hawk is a wasp known for paralyzing tarantulas, dragging them back to their nest and using them as food for their larvae.

What should I do after being stung by a tarantula hawk wasp?

First, don't panic. The pain goes away after a few minutes, and unless you're allergic to the venom, you won't get any worse from it. If you are allergic, seek medical attention immediately. But if you're not allergic (and most people aren't), then the best advice is to simply ride out the pain. Or, as one expert puts it, "Lie down and scream."

How serious is a tarantula hawk sting?

The tarantula hawk is not aggressive towards people, but its sting is considered one of the most painful on Earth.

Are tarantula hawks poisonous?

Tarantula hawks are not poisonous, but they are. Fortunately, the only effect of their venom is to inflict incredible pain on would-be predators, including humans. The pain will eventually disappear without physical sequelae.

What do tarantula hawks eat? ?

Most animals know not to tangle with the tarantula hawk, but it gets eaten by bullfrogs, kingbirds, and road runners.

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  2. BugGuide, available here: https://bugguide.net/node/view/3920
  3. kidadl, available here: https://kidadl.com/animal-facts/common-wasp-facts
  4. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, available here: https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Pepsis%20Wasp.php
  5. BioOne full version, available here: https://bioone.org/journals/journal-of-the-kansas-entomological-society/volume-77/issue-4/E-39.1/Venom-and-the- Good-Life-in-Tarantula-Hawks-Hymenoptera/10.2317/E-39.1.short
  6. National Park Service, available here: https://www.nps.gov/articles/tarantula-hawk.htm
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  8. Dave's Garden, available here: https://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/tarantula-hawk-wasp-garden-friend-or-foe
  9. Technology.org, available here: https://www.technology.org/2019/09/25/5-minutes-of-laying-down-and-screaming-you-better-avoid-the-tarantula- hawk-wasp /
  10. Natural History Museum, available here: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/the-most-painful-wasp-sting-in-the-world-explained.html