Bug of the Week: Tarantula Hawk

Today is overcast and windy, and most insects are settled in for the day. When I went out to search for the bug of the week, I was lucky to find this large insect resting on our milkweed plant. Being cloudy with gusty winds, it wasn’t easy getting a photo that was in focus. Here’s my best shot.

tarantula hawk

Check out the beautiful orange colors on the wings and the spiny legs. If you don’t recognize it, this is a tarantula hawk wasp. Belonging to the family of wasps known as the spider wasps, the tarantula hawk female searches for large spiders. When she finds one, she stings it and then drags it to a burrow she has prepared. Inside the burrow, the wasp lays eggs on the spider. The spider is still alive, but paralyzed. Over time it becomes baby wasp lunch.

Now take a look a something else. Can you see the yellow bit hanging from one of its feet? It isn’t in focus, so it may not look like much.

Here is a photo of another tarantula hawk wasp I took last year. Maybe you can see the bright yellow bits on the tips of its front legs more clearly. They are in pairs, and curve sort of like tiny maple keys.

The tarantula hawk has a special relationship with the desert milkweed plant. Its slender legs fit into special grooves in the flower while it is drinking nectar. The grooves contain bundles of pollen called pollinia. The pollinia catch on the wasp’s legs. When the wasp flies to another milkweed plant, the pollen is transferred and the plant is pollinated.

If you look closely at this wasp you might be able to see the mud on its body where it has been digging its burrow, or perhaps from when it emerged from the burrow its mom built.

For some live action videos, go to You Tube and search for tarantula hawk wasp. In one video, tarantula hawk wasp vs. wolf spider, you can see a wasp trying to drag its spider back to its burrow. Now, that is quite a sight!

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