Wildlife Wednesday

One of the most painful stings is delivered by this wasp found buzzing around at Red Rock Canyon: tarantula hawk (Pepsis spp.), also known as tarantula wasps and pepsis wasps. Ranging in size up to two inches, this velvety black-blue wasp has reddish to orange wings and can be found feeding on nectar in flower rich areas around the desert. The tarantula hawk’s brightly contrasting orange colors warn other creatures that ingesting them might not be worth the risk, as this is a common adaptation signaling that they are harmful. Human interactions with this wasp are slim, as they are mostly docile towards us, but accidents do happen when one nonchalantly places a hand or a foot where a tarantula hawk may be resting or feeding. Once provoked and a sting is administered, severe pain immediately takes over the victim.

The tarantula hawk has a horrific story to tell as it creates almost a parasitic relationship with the desert tarantula (Aphonopelma iodius). When a female tarantula hawk is ready to lay her egg, she preys on traveling tarantulas by stinging the spider to immobilize it and then buries its victim in a burrow. Once the immobilized spider is in place underground, the female tarantula hawk lays her egg in the burrow and closes the burial chamber. Once the egg hatches, larva slowly kill the tarantula by feeding on the spider for three weeks until they emerge as an adult wasp.

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