It is common to compare the Asian giant hornet vs tarantula hawk because the two are both some of the largest species of wasps on the planet. But if the two were to face off, who would win the battle? Let’s find out
If it were left only to how painful their stingers are, the tarantula hawk would win hands down.
The Schmidt pain index, the masterful work of entomologist Justin O. Schmidt, considered the ultimate guide to painful bites and stings, places it at a four on four.
The Asian giant hornets come in at a measly two.
But not everything in a battle is decided by how powerful your weapons are – right? The giant hornet, as the name suggests, is a real giant – and can be bigger than tarantula hawks.
And not for nothing is it called the “Murder Hornet.” These wasps attack in groups, and boy, do they leave a big bite behind. They are enough to behead an entire colony of bees.
So, who would win in a fight between them? That’ what we are here to find out, isn’t it?
What’s the Difference Between a Hornet and a Wasp?
Before we begin our epic faceoff, here’s a question that many of our readers have often posed us: what is the difference between hornets, wasps, and for good measure, bees?
Here, we have tabulated some of the major differences.
|Size||Small<½ inch||Big⅓ rd inch – 1 inch||Biggest> 1-inch|
|Apperanace||Black and yellow stripes||Black and yellow rings||Black and white rings|
|Benefits to us||HoneyExcellent Pollinators||Modest pollinatorsExterminators of pests||Modest pollinatorsExterminators of pests|
|Social (Y/N)||Mostly social||Both social and solitary||Both social and solitary|
Clearly, wasps and hornets are very closely related, and bees are slightly further apart from them. However, the main point to remember is that hornets are bigger.
What Are They?
Let’s quickly recall some important information about these two flying nightmares before we begging to compare the two.
Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia)
Asian giant hornets are the world’s largest species of hornets. Their body lengths can reach up to 1.75 inches, wingspans about three inches, and their stingers are a quarter inch long.
These wasps are carnivorous. Their main food is large insects such as bees, nectar from flowers, tree sap, and honeydew.
They are found in South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the far eastern parts of Russia. In the last couple of years, America has also been invaded by them.
These giant bugs love to live in the mountains but don’t go too high – they avoid both plains and very high altitudes. They are mostly found in wooded areas.
They don’t build their own nests. Instead, they reuse nests dug by small animals like rodents, or else McGyver cracks in pine roots.
Tarantula Hawk (Pepsis and Hemipepsis)
Tarantula hawks are a type of spider wasp, with their primary focus being on tarantulas.
Spider wasps are parasitoids. They use spiders as hosts for their larvae, and the larvae use the same spider as their food.
In the case of tarantula hawks, they take their parasitoid nature very seriously. Their targets are tarantulas – one of the most feared spiders in the world.
These spiders can be as much as two to three times bigger than the wasp itself! However, tarantula hawks are fearless and almost always the victors in one-to-one fights with tarantulas.
Each tarantula hawk lays as many as about 14 eggs, which gives an idea of how many tarantulas it eliminates in its lifetime.
They are solitary in nature; they don’t attack in groups, nor do they form nest colonies.
You can find these wasps on all continents except Antarctica. While they are largely concentrated in South America, 18 species are found in the southwestern desert of the United States.
Tarantula hawks look quite different from other wasps – they have bright, orange wings that signal their attackers that they are a force to reckon with.
This kind of signaling is not uncommon in the insect kingdom, and the term for it is aposematism.
Male tarantula hawks don’t have any stingers, but the females do, and they are quite large (the stingers of the P. Gross species are about 9/32nd of an inch).
How Big Are They?
Let’s first compare their body sizes to find out if either of the two has a clear advantage in sheer size.
Asian Giant Hornets
We mentioned earlier that these are the largest hornets on the planet, and their size is totally fearsome.
They can grow up to about 1.75 inches, which makes them one hell of a big wasp. Moreover, their stingers are about 0.25 inches long and inject a fair bit of venom into their enemies.
Their size is complemented by their rather cartoon villain-like looks – they have large pincers on their mouths (which can decapitate a honeybee in seconds), eyes shaped like teardrops (a la spider man), tiger-like orange and black stripes, and net-like wings
Both the pincers and the stinger are defense mechanisms for the hornet, making it a deadly combo that can hurt a predator from either side it approaches.
Tarantula Hawk (Pepsis Genus)
Tarantula Hawks are nearly equally large. The real big ones can grow to be about two inches.
These wasps don’t have mandibles or pincers upfront, but their stingers really do most of the job for them.
Apart from that, the aposematism they practice is another useful tactic to strike terror in the hearts of potential predators.
Whose Sting is More Painful?
Neithers’ is a picnic, let us tell you that. While yes, tarantula hawks really up the ante when it comes to stinging pain with a superb, electric shock-like effect that leaves you paralyzed for a few minutes, Asian giant hornets aren’t much far behind.
These giant hornets can multiply their sting manyfold by attacking as a swarm. Wave after wave of the wasps will sting you until you are left defenseless, waiting for the grim reaper.
Asian Giant Hornets
Justin Schmidt labeled these wasps as a two on his sting pain index. However, many since have contested this claim, and there are calls to revise the hornet’s sting pain level.
Here’s internet personality Coyote Peterson entering the famous sting zone with the Asian Giant Hornet:
You can clearly see the hand swell up to almost twice its size, and the hornets sting leaving a strong effect on Peterson.
So, what causes so much pain in their sting? It is a venom known as mastoparan-M. These chemicals can damage human skin tissue. Moreover, the hornet doesn’t just sting the prey; it also throws venom into the prey’s eyes.
While that’s a good explanation, it still doesn’t tell you why these wasps have earned the dreaded moniker of “murder wasps.”
The truth is that while a single stinger is bearable, and eventually the pain and swelling subsides, Asian giant hornets rarely fight alone.
These guys will swarm the prey, injecting their sting repeatedly until enough toxin enters their body to kill them. It’s enough to murder a human being.
Tarantula Hawks have a fierce reputation for having one of the worst sting pains in the world. Their sting is colorfully described as being electrocuted while taking a bath.
Not only is the sting quite bad, but it is also enough to cause swelling and redness that lasts for quite some time. Thankfully, the stinger’s effects start to wear off in a few minutes and do not cause any permanent damage.
Thankfully Tarantula wasps are not social wasps. Otherwise, these guys would have been a deadly force to reckon with.
Who is More Aggressive?
Size and pain-inflicting weapons are not a match for gumption and aggressiveness in the field of battle. Hence it is important to know who will be the first off the bouts when the bell is rung for the battle of the wasps.
Asian Giant Hornets
Giant hornets are social wasps. These guys live in colonies of 40 or so hornets, and like all social wasps, they are quite aggressive.
As mentioned earlier, they can attack in swarms, repeatedly injecting venom into the prey and finishing it off in no time.
Similarly, they can attack a nest of bees and kill thousands of them in one go, biting off their heads and using the abdomen as food for their larvae.
Tarantula hawks are nonaggressive wasps. They aren’t social, and even though female wasps might nest close by, they live their lives separately.
They can sting and bite when someone tries to touch them or accidentally handle them, but otherwise, they aren’t the angry wasps that most people picture.
What Are They Predators Of?
What kind of insects can each of these wasps take on to defeat and then eat? This can also help to decide which one might be able to defeat the other.
Asian Giant Hornets
Asian giant hornets are extremely predatory. They love to hunt large insects such as beetles, other hornets, other wasps, bees, praying mantises, and hornworms.
Bees are their all-time favorite targets, closely followed by the mantises. Both are filled with protein.
The way they hunt is also noteworthy here. The hornets send out scouts from amongst them who look out for opportunities to find food.
When they find a good source of food (generally bees, their larvae, adults, and pupae), they will approach the place and start to emit pheromones that inform others about the presence of a beehive.
Within minutes, a horde of hornets swarms a beehive, killing thousands of them in a matter of a half hour. Hornet bodies are extremely strong, and the honeybees are not able to put up much of a defense.
What they do next is also bone-chilling. The adult hornets cannot digest solid protein, they can only drink liquids, so they suck the blood and other juices from the bodies of their prey.
But they chop off the heads and other body parts and carry them back to their nests, where the larvae make short work of them.
For this purpose, they don’t bring out their potent stingers; they just chop off the nutrient-heavy parts of the bees with their mandibles.
Tarantula hawks are not to be left far behind in this race. These guys have chosen to hunt down spiders 2-8 times their size.
The tarantula hawk is able to take down a tarantula because its own body is very nimble and quick, and it can lie down and sting the spider in its abdomen.
They use this strategy to deliver two or three painful stings to the prey, and in a matter of seconds, the spider becomes a zombie.
What happens afterward is truly gruesome.
The tarantula hawks are not hunting these spiders for their own gain. They are collecting them to lay their eggs on the spider.
They carry the tarantula to their nest in the ground and then force their egg inside their bodies. When the larvae come out, the spider is still alive but unable to move.
That makes for a wonderful snack for the newly hatched larvae. They start feasting, taking extra care not to eat the heart and nervous system so that the food will remain fresh longer.
When they are about to pupate, they enjoy one last meal of the remaining parts of the spider and then cocoon themselves for a long sleep.
We hope you won’t get nightmares after reading all this. We sure did.
Who Will Win in a Fight?
So finally, coming back to the question everyone is waiting for. Who will win if they are pitted against each other?
First off, both wasps are near the same size, so no side has a clear advantage in weight. Tarantula hawks can drag big spiders, so they are clearly more powerful.
However, Asian giant hornets have two sets of weapons to fight – the mandibles and the pincers. Both are equally deadly.
Moreover, these guys are more aggressive and can call for backup when facing a large enemy.
So our verdict is simply this – in a cage match where the tarantula hawk squares off against the Asian giant one-on-one, we feel that the hawk wasp will win. Its powerful stinger and fearlessness against its enemies will carry the day.
But if they are put up in a tag team match, the Asian Giants will kill off the tarantula hawk in seconds – because the poor hawk waps have no one in their corner!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a tarantula hawk bigger than an Asian hornet?
No, they are almost the same size. Queen Asian hornets can reach a size of about 2 inches, matching the maximum size of female tarantula hawks.
Both insects have a similar wingspan, but the stingers of the tarantula hawks are slightly longer, and definitely more venomous.
Who eats Asian giant hornets?
In the wild, these huge hornets have almost no predators. They are kings of their domain and rule with an iron fist.
However, the only predator that can threaten them is the human – and some tribes do exactly that. In the naga tribes of India, Asian giant hornets are a prized delicacy.
Do tarantulas ever beat tarantula hawks?
Almost never. The tarantula hawk has standardized its modus operandi over thousands of years of evolution and uses it to the fullest extent.
It dances around the spider at very quick speeds to confuse it. Then it goes down on its belly, attacking the tarantula from underneath, trying to reach its belly.
The spider is not able to do anything to the wasp because of its hard exoskeleton. In a matter of seconds, the tarantula hawk stings the spider and zombifies him.
Do Asian giant hornets sting humans?
They might sting humans. In general, Asian Giant hornets have no interest in attacking predators larger than themselves, but if a human approaches their colony, these wasps are not above stinging him multiple times, to the point of killing him with excess venom.
Asian Giant Hornets are no second fiddles in this war of the wasps. They are aggressive, and angry and have two pairs of weapons to fight with.
Moreover, they attack in swarms and can take down their enemies in minutes. There is truly strength in numbers.
The much-feared tarantula hawk will surely go down if the giant hornets get to attack in the wild.
Thank you for reading!
Comparing the two wasps is important because it helps to understand which one is dangerous and which is not. Many of our readers have asked us about these two wasps in the past, please read through their emails below.
Letter 1 – Tarantula Hawk we believe, and request for more reader supplied information
Unknown Bug Location: Los Angeles County California November 24, 2010 12:07 pm Why type of bug insect is this? Signature: The Bug Guy Dear Bug Guy, Since we offer a free service on the internet, we feel that we also have the prerogative to occasionally step up on a soap box and promote our own agenda when the mood strikes. Your letter struck a note with us. We pride ourselves on being able to create a dialog on the internet that promotes tolerance and appreciation of the lower beasts, but dialog is a two way street. You have provided us with the barest of essentials required on our online form, and you did not provide any information to whet the appetites of our readership. Upon reading your email submission, we know only that you found something in Los Angeles and you want to know what it is. In the interest of sharing information, please provide us with some actual content. What were the circumstances surrounding this sighting? Was this lovely creature sighted in the city, or in a park, or perhaps in your own yard? How was it behaving? Was it aggressive? Was it on November 24, or did you finally decide to try to identify a creature you photographed in the summer of 2004? With all due respect Bug Guy, you didn’t give us much yet you want an answer. We believe this Spider Wasp is a Tarantula Hawk, but the group does need some revision and research. The genera Pepsis and Hemipepsis are both known as Tarantula Hawks. BugGuide has much information on the genus page for Pepsis, including: “Genera Pepsis and Hemipepsis have identical biology and are not distinguishable in the field. They are discussed here together under Pepsis, though there is a brief account for Hemipepsis. These wasps are reputed to have a very powerful sting, though they are not aggressive.” Tarantula Hawks are considered Spider Wasps in the family Pompilidae, and there may be other species in the family that resemble Tarantula Hawks. Update Thanks for the response. I,m sorry, but I am not an insect enthusiast. The intent of my inquiry was exactly that, “What type of bug is this”. I have lived in Southern California all my life (49 Years) and have never seen such an interesting creature. This particular insect was spotted by me on Wednesday November 24, 2010 approximately 1:30 PM in Castaic California in front of my garage door. I was walking out to my car when I saw it hanging to the stucco. I became very interested in it because I had never seen anything like it. I went into the house I got my digital camera decided to take some pictures of it. When I came back outside it was on the concrete and walking along the length of the garage door. I walked awkwardly and some what wobbly like a beetle. I got a piece of cardboard and picked the insect up by sliding the cardboard under it. It never tried to fly away and nor was it aggressive. I moved it to a planter area because I did not want it to get stepped on or ran over. That particular day was cool and Windy. I just wanted to know if this was a rare species for the area I live in. Thank-You for the prompt response. Craig Thompson Thank you so much for providing us with additional information, and please don’t think of us as monsters after our first response. You might want to try to read more about Tarantula Hawks because they are truly warriors in the insect world to be able to sting and incapacitate a Tarantula to provide the nourishment needed for the larval wasp to develop and mature.
Letter 2 – Tarantula Hawk in Silver Lake
Subject: Tarantula Hawk Hunting, Looking for Host? Location: Red Car Property, Silverlake, Los Angeles, California May 25, 2014 12:39 pm Hi Daniel, I was walking the Red Car Property in Silver Lake this morning and got some photos of a Tarantula Hawk walking a grid pattern 12″ across, 6″ up, the 12″across like she was wither hunting for prey or a host for eggs. Photos and longer version of story here: http://redcarproperty.blogspot.com/2014/05/red-car-property-tarantula-hawk-another.html Signature: Diane E Hi Diane, Thanks for informing us about this Tarantula Hawk sighting in nearby Silver Lake. We have taken the liberty of capturing an image from your posting and linking back to your site, but we were unable to capture the first image for some unknown reason. Several years ago, our editorial staff observed a large Tarantula Hawk right below the Red Car Property in the Los Angeles River, and just last year, we observed a large Tarantula Hawk at Barnsdell Park. The behavior you observed might be related to locating prey, or it might have to do with locating an ideal site for a nursery burrow. As an aside, the new construction on the site of the old Monte Sano Hospital has saddened us. That plateau was a lovely lookout point, excellent photo location, and perfect lupine habitat. There is also the loss of endangered native, California Black Walnuts as a result of the construction. Hi Daniel Thanks. We’re hoping the Trust for Public Land acquires the Red Car Property this year to preserve what little Black Walnut Woodland we have left in Silver Lake. TPL just announced an option on the property. I’m tired of losing open space to big stucco boxes! Diane Edwardson
Letter 3 – Tarantula Hawk rescued from Swimming Pool
Subject: Large Wasp Location: Central Arizona November 14, 2015 3:38 pm Funny story. Fount this guy in the pool, dead. Scooped him out and spread him out to dry after showing the kids. While laying him out I couldn’t get his legs right, to spread, so I kept at it until he came back to life. Signature: Brian Dear Brian, What a wonderful Bug Humanitarian story. This is a Tarantula Hawk, a group of Spider Wasps that prey upon Tarantulas. Most North American species of Tarantula Hawks have reddish-orange wings. We are pretty certain your individual is Pepsis mexicana based on images posted to BugGuide.