Skip to content


The rush milkweeds are flowering like crazy this week.

Not surprisingly, this tarantula hawk wasp was taking full advantage (I've written about the relationship between rush milkweeds and tarantula hawks previously.)

This one reacted to my approach and flew away.

It went to another plant, then returned. It continued to watch me.

I was surprised it was so timid because the female wasps of this species are armed with a potent sting. At first I thought it might be a male, which wouldn't have a stinger, but typically the females are the ones with the curled antennae.

It is hard to see at this resolution, but the wasp has a patch of dirt on the side of her thorax. That's pretty common. The females sting tarantulas or other spiders and drag them into a burrow underground. They often wear dirt.

As for being timid, I guess I'm scarier than a tarantula.

The rush milkweed is still flowering.

Every once in awhile a high-pitched sound travels through the air and one of these shows up.

If you are brave, get a bit closer.

It's a tarantula hawk wasp, an important pollinator of milkweeds. You can read more about how they do it in a previous post.

These wasps are big and noisy and clumsy.  They seem like flying dinosaurs. You can't miss them.


Not far away is a quiet little bee that you might easily miss.

Look at that long antenna.

The bees with antennae almost as long or longer than their bodies are commonly called long-horned bees. They are important pollinators of a number of plants, but their legs aren't long enough to pollinate the specialized milkweed flowers.

Still, they are just some of the many insects that benefit from milkweed flowers.

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


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


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?