Today we were lucky to capture a Tarantula Hawk Wasp on video with my Mom’s iPhone. It is quite the impressive insect that lives in the desert southwest. They have dark blue bodies with orange wings. The females have curly antennae, while the males are straight. While we have read that this wasp can be both social and solitary, we have only seen them flying solo.
Although this wasp’s primary diet is nectar, it preys on tarantulas for their hosts, thus its namesake. If you are lucky – which we have never been – you may see them flying with a tarantula in their grip. The poor tarantula is paralyzed by the sting and becomes the wasp’s host. The wasp then lays its egg on the tarantula’s stomach and after the larvae is hatched it will feed on the live but still paralyzed spider.
The Tarantula Hawk Wasp is also known for its painful bite. Lucky for Arizonans, they are not aggressive wasps. They only sting if provoked and only the female Tarantula Hawk Wasps have stingers. However, they seem to be erratic flyers and we suspect that many people may get stung because they fly into you. My Mom has personally shared many dances with these wasps trying to get out of their way. Like most creatures, they do not want to entangle with humans or roadrunners, the only bird known to eat them.
Dr. Justin Schmidt is an entomologist from Arizona who travelled the world getting bit by insects to gather data for the development of his Schmidt Insect Sting Pain Index. He rates the Tarantula Hawk Wasp as the second most painful insect bite in the world. Dr. Schmidt rates bites on a scale of 0-4, the higher the number the more painful the sting.
According to Dr. Schmidt, the Tarantula Hawk Wasp rates a 4.0 making it a traumatically painful sting. Dr. Schmidt has said that if you get bit by the Tarantula Hawk Wasp it is surprisingly electrifying and that all you want to do is lay down and scream. Luckily their venom will not cause death and the pain only lasts five minutes if that is any solace. To learn more about Dr. Justin Schmidt and his biting adventures with insects, check out his book: “The Sting of the Wild: The Story of the Man Who Got Stung for Science.”
FYI. . .below is a list of the top ten most painful insect bites per the Schmidt Insect Sting Pain Index. My Mom tells me she was bit by three of the top ten. When my Mom was a child, she stepped on a Yellow Jacket Wasp which she says felt like a cigarette burn and very painful. Before she became a bee whisperer, my Mom has had her share of Honeybee stings which she describes as mildly painful. Several years ago, my Mom was sitting on the floor when she was bit numerous times by a fiery mob - Fire Ants that were sneaking in through a crack in the patio door - ouch, ouch, and ouch!
- Bullet Ant Bites / Rating = 4.0+
- Tarantula Hawk Stings / Rating = 4.0
- Paper Wasp Sting / Rating = 3.0
- Red harvester Ant Bites / Rating = 3.0
- Honeybee & European Hornet Stings / Rating = 2.0
- Yellow Jacket Sting / Rating = 2.0
- Bald-faced hornet Sting / Rating = 2.0
- Bullhorn Acacia Sting / Rating = 1.8
- Fire Ant Bite / Rating = 1.2
- Sweat Bee Sting / Rating = 1.0
National Park Service
Schmidt Insect Sting Pain Index