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  • Writer's pictureAllan Sander


Updated: Oct 4, 2022

“Back again!” How many more times am I going to do this? Under the cool shade of a walnut tree is a discarded pile of cement pavers – I need the correct size and cut to frame a catch basin. As I unearth another stone, hopefully for the last time, a rustling in the brush tickles my ear. I know it is not a snake, it might be a lizard but… “Wait! How cool is that!” Hauling its prey through the leaves is a large Tarantula Hawk, [Pepsis wasp] or "T-hawk," as I like to call them. Worn like a cape, its bright orange wings cover a steel-blue body, and in tow, is the hairy black bulk of a spider.

She winds her way over and under the vegetation, scaling rocks and sliding across shifting sand. Moving backwards, gripping the tarantula at its mouth, she keeps the body streamlined to maneuver through the undergrowth – much like an osprey flying with a fish head-first in its talons to reduce drag.

It is difficult to pull away as I race to the house to fetch my camera. My mind races, too. Did the T-hawk discover its eight-legged quarry above ground or was it teased out from its burrow? Like a pair of heavyweight boxers, I envision these two squaring off, head-to-head:

Round 1: T-hawk anxiously flicks its wings, vying for position.The opponent lifts its front legs to reveal a formidable set of fangs. It’s a standoff.

Round 2: The large arachnid’s hairy limbs keep its adversary front and center. T-hawk attempts a quick uppercut with her stinger but is rejected.

Round 3: Shifting side-to-side, T-hawk goes on the offensive again; she curls her abdomen under her body taking a quick jab to the underside and hits her mark. In minutes the toxin takes effect, the spider slumps in defeat. “T-hawk TKO!”

Seriously though, this not to be taken lightly, that stinger carries quite a wallop. Only the South American Bullet Ant exceeds its pain threshold - being number one in the world! Yep, the sting is comparable to being shot by a bullet, but the ant’s pain stays for an entire day – 24 hours! T-hawk’s is only 5 minutes or so. The positive side is that these critters are actually quite docile, you have to really jerk their chain one too many times to get them riled up. Besides, it is the larva that is carnivorous, feeding on the innards of the paralyzed spider. The adults are contented with lapping up nectar from flowering plants.

I make it back and find the slumped body of the tarantula.

I scan the area and see the T-hawk hastily scouring the hillside. I assume it is looking for its burrow. The spider wasp finds its prey by sense of smell, so I guess it will use this sensory capability to relocate its victim – as it eventually does.

A few adjustments for a good grip and it is back to work. The tenacity of this creature is amazing. I try not to disturb its Herculean efforts, as I now bob and weave, trying to get off a clean shot. The matted vegetation puts an abrupt stop to my pursuit.

She will now haul the spider into her lair, lay an egg on its hapless body, and seal the entrance.

The larva will hatch and devour the victim from the inside, pupate, and emerge as an adult to start the cycle once again.

Check out this website for a quick overview of the Tarantula Hawk:

Location: Orange County, California - USA

Date: September 2022

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