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Bug of the Week: Tarantula Hawk Wasps

Would you believe a wasp may be important to the survival of certain butterflies?

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Tarantula hawks are large, colorful wasps in the genus Pepsis. They are found throughout the southwestern United States.

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The tarantula hawk has a special relationship with the desert or rush milkweed plant (Asclepias subulata). 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.

Tarantula-polliniaSee the pollinia on this wasp's front leg? When the wasp flies to another milkweed plant, the pollen is transferred and the plant is pollinated.

If a milkweed is successfully pollinated, then it produces seeds, which means more milkweed plants. Milkweed is a larval food source of monarch and queen butterfly larvae.

So, in addition to being fascinating creatures in their own right, these tarantula hawk wasps are helping the monarch and queen butterfly survive.

Do you have any milkweeds growing in your yard? What insects do you see visiting?

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