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  • Writer's pictureIsaac yelchin

Tarantula Hawk: Southern California's Most Petrifying Wasp

Something sounding like a helicopter approaches, yet the hum is laborious as the flying object is so large and heavy it has to put full force into its flight. This beast is actually an insect, commonly known as the Tarantula Hawk.

How did it get such an intimidating name? It is neither a hawk nor a tarantula. Well the name has to do with its strange and sadistic behavior. Adult male tarantula hawks feed mainly on nectar from a variety of flowers, similar to most other wasp and bee species. However, the adult females are on a different mission.

The wasps scour the dry southern California landscape, their buzz striking fear into the hearts of tarantulas far and wide. They fly low to the ground in search of hairy eight legged arachnids. When they find one of these tarantulas they immediately engage in mortal combat. They aggressively fly and dive bomb the tarantula attempting to get the perfect angle to inject powerful venom from the stinger on their abdomen.

Tarantulas are well equipped to fight back and raise their front legs to block the wasps attacks. They dodge and weave and bare their own venomous fangs. If the wasp isn't careful and is grabbed by the tarantula, this could spell doom and end up in the wasp becoming food itself. However, this outcome is rare as the wasps are specially adapted to quell the tarantulas and almost always end up laying a powerful sting in the tarantulas backside.

This sting is one of the most painful in the entire world for humans, so when it hits a tarantula this causes immediate paralysis. Once immobilized, the wasp drags the tarantula to a nearby hole in the ground and proceeds to do something horror movie script writers would be awed by.

She injects her ovipositor through the tarantula's exoskeleton and lays her eggs inside the body of the tarantula. Then she flies away and leaves the paralyzed tarantula filled with her offspring. The tarantula recovers from paralysis shortly after and continues with its day, however the next few weeks will be its last.

The baby wasps hatch inside the tarantula and begin feeding on its internal organs. The tarantula suffers a horrible death as the wasps devour it from the inside out as they grow. After a few weeks they metamorphosize and turn into young adults. Then they eat their way straight through the exoskeleton of the tarantula and fly away to continue this brutal lifestyle all over again.

Click for a video about the Tarantula Hawk! -->

Interestingly this is not the only wasp that commits these horrible crimes, in fact there are hundreds of species of wasps that are specifically evolved to hunt one specific species to lay their babies inside. Some hunt caterpillars, some hunt spiders, and some find plants to lay their eggs in. It is an interesting method of parenting that I personally don’t recommend, however nature is all about survival, and its morals are put to the side. But that's what makes the natural world so fascinating. Pay close attention to any creatures you see, even tiny wasps or spiders, because inevitably, you will find something new and exciting to learn! Let us know what you discover in the comments below!

Photos and Video by Isaac Yelchin

Isaac Yelchin is foremost a herpetologist. He studies lizards, frogs, newts, and the like. Specifically, he spends all day and night thinking about what it is like to be an animal. What are the animals thinking about? What is their perspective? When he should be working, he sits and stares at his pet lizard asking himself these questions.

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