St. George & Southern Utah Pest Control Experts

AVOIDING THE STING: The Tarantula Hawk

By Eric Palmer April 29, 2021
The Pepsis wasp, better known as the tarantula hawk, is a member of the wasp family. Tarantula hawks get their name since females Pepsis wasps, when they are ready to lay an egg, actively seek out tarantula spiders.

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The Pepsis wasp, better known as the tarantula hawk, is a member of the wasp family.

Tarantula hawks get their name since females Pepsis wasps, when they are ready to lay an egg, actively seek out tarantula spiders. The Pepsis wasp will sting the tarantula, paralyze it, drag it back to the Pepsis’s hole in the ground home, and then lay a single egg inside the tarantula’s abdomen. When the tarantula hawk egg hatches, the newly emerged wasp eats the tarantula spider!

tarantula hawk wasp in a corner of a commercial location - concrete floor, concrete block wall

What Do They Eat?

While baby Pepsis wasps eat tarantula carcasses, the adult tarantula hawks are pollinators. Tarantula hawks eat nectar for most of their adult lives. They fly from flower to flower gathering nectar and spreading pollen just like honey bees. Around town, the tarantula hawk seems to generally prefer Daylilies over any other flower, but that is just an observation from Eric and not a hard fast scientific fact.

Are They Aggressive?

If you are a wandering desert tarantula, then absolutely yes, the Pepsis wasp is aggressive. Luckily, however, Pepsis wasps are not aggressive toward humans and pets and will rarely sting unless provoked. That being said, the Tarantula hawks sting is said to be one of the most painful stings of any insect found in North America.

What Should I Do If Stung?

If stung by a tarantula hawk, the advice provided by the biologist Justin Schmidt is to lie down and scream. “Stung by a tarantula hawk? The advice I give in speaking engagements is to lie down and scream. The pain is so debilitating and excruciating that the victim is at risk of further injury by tripping in a hole or over an object in the path and then falling onto a cactus or into a barbed-wire fence” remarked the biologist.

The pain that emanates from a Pepsis wasp sting is so severe that most people can not longer maintain normal coordination or cognitive control. According to Justin Schmidt, “screaming is satisfying and helps reduce attention to the pain of the sting.”

All of that being said, if you are stung here are some safety tips:

  • Lay down and call for help.
    Have someone dial 911 for emergency support.
    Clean the wound with soap and warm water.
    Apply a cool compress to help reduce pain and swelling.
    Avoid consuming food or liquid IF you’re having difficulty swallowing.
    Take an over-the-counter pain reliever as needed.
    Tell the emergency personnel of ANY pain medication you took.

Pest Proofing

To prevent tarantula hawks from gaining access to the interior of your home, insure all your windows have properly fitting insect screens and that you have a screen door installed if you wish to keep your doors open.

Conclusion

While we do have a threat of tarantula hawks in southern Utah, the threat is manageable. Pepsis wasps are not aggressive unless provoked and are beneficial pollinators for our gardens. If you have any questions about tarantula hawks, tarantula hawks proofing your home or office, or other pest-related inquires please call our office, we love to talk bugs!

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