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Tarantula Hawk (Pepsis species)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Tarantula Hawk

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Image Credit: Fred S of San Carlo, Mexico
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Image Credit: Fred S of San Carlo, Mexico
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The Tarantula Hawk is a parasitic wasp that uses spiders to feed its young in a macabre scene one might expect in a horror story.

Updated: 01/06/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Adult Tarantula Hawks feed primarily on nectar, but females actively hunt tarantulas for more nefarious reasons. Tarantula Hawks can deliver a sting that is very painful to people, but downright paralyzing to tarantulas. Once paralyzed, the helpless tarantula is brought back to the Tarantula Hawk's burrow. To add more agony to the fate of the unfortunate tarantula, it is usually buried alive (still paralyzed) with some Tarantula Hawk wasp eggs. The newly hatched larvae immediately begin to feed on the living tarantula until it is consumed.

Tarantula Hawks take on many shades of black like blue-black and purple-black, but the orange wings always contrast with their dark bodies, making it easier to identify them. Male and female Tarantula Hawks vary in subtle ways. Male antennae are straight and their abdomens are segmented into 7 sections. Female antennae are curved and their abdomens have only 6 segments. This species of wasp is found in the American Southwest and Mexico.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
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Flying insect icon
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Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Hymenoptera
        Family: Pompilidae
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          Genus: Pepsis
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            Species: species

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Pepsis species
Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Size (Adult; Length): 42mm to 43mm (1.65" to 1.69")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; blue; green; orange; red; yellow; brown
Descriptors: flying; biting; stinging

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 42mm (1.7in) and 43mm (1.7in)
Lo: 42mm
Md: 42.5mm
Hi: 43mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Tarantula Hawk may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Tarantula Hawk. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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