What is a Tarantula Hawk

When some people hear the term Tarantula Hawk, they think of a spider-eating bird. However, among Grand Canyon animals, it is considered an insect. In fact, the Tarantula Hawk, also scientifically known as Pepsis thisbe, is a large wasp.

The most common species of the Grand Canyon insect can grow as long as two inches, or five millimeters long. The Tarantula Hawk features and iridescent dark blue body and displays long legs and bright orange wings.

How to Identify Them

You can tell the male and female of the insect apart by its antennae. While the males have vertically straight antennae, the female’s antennae are curly. If you take one of the Grand Canyon tours to the canyon’s South Rim, or hike within the canyon, you will often see the insects. That is because the wasp likes to prey on tarantulas, which inhabit these areas.

The Tarantula– Food for the Tarantula Hawk

While both the male and females are considered nectivores, and like to feast on flowers, the females like to hunt tarantulas so they can feed their larvae. Therefore, it might be more correct to call the female the Tarantula Hawk and give the male another name.

When the female captures a tarantula, it uses its stinger to paralyze the spider so the spider can be transported back to the wasp’s nest. Once she positions the spider in the nest, the Tarantula Hawk lays an egg inside the abdomen of the tarantula.

She covers the entryway to the burrow to prevent the spider from escaping. After the egg hatches, the larvae will feed on the spider, which is still alive, for several weeks. The larvae will avoid eating the spider’s vital organs during this time. The feeding continues until the larvae pupate into adult wasps.

Females Sting- Males Do Not

If you go on one of the Grand Canyon tours and get stung by a Tarantula Hawk, you have been stung by a female wasp. Adult males do not possess stingers. However, females use a stinger that is 7 millimeters long, or about ¼ inch in length. A female Tarantula Hawk will not sting a human unless she is provoked. Be forewarned, as the sting is reportedly the second most painful sting transmitted among Grand Canyon animals and insects.

Predators of the Hawk

One of the predators is the roadrunner. Roadrunners love to feed on Tarantula Hawks so well that they will take the risk of getting stung.