February 21, 2020
A Tarantula’s Nightmare
- as seen by -Eric Januszkiewicz
The tarantula hawk (Pepsis thisbe) is an enormous parasitic wasp that is the nightmare of any unlucky tarantula that crosses its path. Every year, Oklahoma brown tarantulas (Aphonopelma hentzi) migrate through the grasslands of southeast Colorado in search of a mate. The tarantula hawks take advantage of the thousands of tarantulas that scatter throughout the plains at this time.
Once a tarantula is located, the tarantula hawk paralyzes it with its sting. The wasp then drags the tarantula to its burrow where it lays its eggs inside the body of the paralyzed spider. When the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae eat the tarantula alive from the inside out which may take as long as a few weeks.
It can be a frightening experience coming across these wasps, however, they are relatively harmless to humans. Their sting is extremely painful, but the pain only lasts a few minutes.
This tarantula hawk was found with its paralyzed victim on the side of a dirt road in southeast Colorado during a night of road cruising in the Comanche National Grassland Preserve. While it is the ultimate nightmare for a tarantula, this unique adaptive strategy keeps tarantula populations in check and provides a mechanism of survival for the young tarantula hawks.