Among the many members of the Order Hymenoptera, the large stinging wasps are the best known. One fascinating wasp is the tarantula hawk, The State Insect of New Mexico. “Tarantula hawk” most commonly refers to the Pepsis formasa and Pepsis thisbe, species of wasps, found in the southwestern United States. These wasps are often up to two inches in length and the females can even have stingers up to 1/3 inch long. Not surprisingly, a sting from this insect is considered to be one of the most painful.
However, one of the most interesting aspects of this wasp is the source of its common name. Tarantula hawks do in fact prey on tarantulas. Tarantulas are not a regular prey item, but are rather a special food source. Female wasps hunt these spiders as a food source for their larvae (see YouTube video below). The females sting the tarantula, paralyzing it with venom. The wasp then lays an egg on the spider’s abdomen, which will hatch soon after. The spider remains paralyzed until the larvae begin to feed, eventually killing the tarantula in the process.
As a predator, the tarantula hawk rivals the bravado of many creatures much larger than itself. In fact, very few animals are willing to risk viewing tarantulas as a food item. One example, the roadrunner bird, is gargantuan in contrast to this comparatively small insect. In the case of the tarantula hawk, survival for the next generation motivates its astounding feats.