Bullet Ant vs. Tarantula Hawk: Who Will Win In The Wild?

In a hypothetical fight between bullet ant vs. tarantula hawk, who do you think will win? We study this fun question on various objective parameters to come to a conclusion in our blog below.

Bullet ants are also known as ’24-hour ants’ because they deliver an extremely painful sting that lasts up to 24 hours.

On the other hand, tarantula hawks are parasitoid wasps who can prey on spiders twice their size and enslave them to feed their larvae.

Both are known for being neck and neck in the Schmidt sting pain index, a comparative scale of how painful the stings of various insects are, designed by the entomologist Justin Schmidt.

So, who would win in a fight to the death between these two fearsome fighters of the wild? Let’s try to answer this question with all the available information we have on these two insects.

How Big Are They?

It is important to know how big each of them is to decide which one is the most fierce among the two.

Both bullet ants and tarantula hawks are bigger in size as compared to other insects of their genus, but tarantula hawks are larger than bullet ants.

But the sting of a bullet ant lasts much longer than the sting of a tarantula hawk.

Bullet Ants (Paraponera clavata)

Bullet ants can measure up to 0.7 to 1.2 inches in length. They are reddish-black in color and have large and strong mandibles.

Along with these pincers, they also have a visibly strong stinger that induces the most painful bites known to humans.

It is so painful that scientists have compared it to being shot with a bullet (which is where the name comes from). Like all other colony-forming insects, the queen of the bullet ant colony is slightly larger than the rest of the ants.

Bullet Ant

Tarantula Hawk (Pepsis Genus)

Tarantula hawk wasps are larger than bullet ants and can measure up to 2 inches in length.

They are black-bodied insects with rusty orange or bright orange wings. Some species, such as the P. Grossa, have a metallic blue luster.

Moreover, they have long legs that help them to run very quickly on the ground.

You can distinguish between a male and female tarantula hawk through their antennae. Males have straight antennae, while females have curled ones.

Where Do They Live?

The two large arthropods, tarantula hawks and bullet ants, are mostly found in South America and Central America.

Bullet ant colonies abound in the tropical rainforests of America. Tarantula wasps are spread across grasslands, shrublands, and deserts worldwide.

Bullet Ant

Bullet ants inhabit the neotropical rainforests of South America and Central America.

In the tropical belt, you can find many colonies of bullet ants in the rainforests of Columbia, Brazil, Honduras, Peru, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Ecuador, and many other countries.

Bullet ants build their nests at the base of the trees, and each colony might contain hundreds of bullet ants.

Bullet Ant Vs. Tarantula Hawk - Who Will Win

Tarantula Hawk

You can find Tarantula hawk wasps across the world.

Dense populations of tarantula hawks exist in Africa, America, the Indian subcontinent, and many other continents except Antarctica and Europe.

In the United States, tarantula hawks live in the deserts of the Southwestern states such as Texas, Colorado, and Utah.

Apart from deserts, they also inhabit scrublands and grasslands.

Whose Bite/Sting is More Painful?

Both insects are fierce biters, and insect enthusiasts have often tried to compare their bites.

While the immediate aftermath of a tarantula hawk bite is perhaps more painful, the bullet ants sting leaves a brilliant pain that remains with you for much longer.

As an aside, all insects of the order Hymenoptera (which includes bees, wasps, ants, sawflies, etc.) are venomous.

Thankfully, neither bullet ants nor tarantula hawks are known to be aggressive towards humans.

Bullet Ant Vs. Tarantula Hawk - Who Will Win

Bullet Ants

Bullet ants are mostly non-aggressive, but if you provoke them, you can end up with the most painful sting a human can ever have.

Bullets ants sting is the most painful sting in the world as per the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. It got a rating of four on four.

The worst part about bullet Ant sting is that the pain lasts for up to 24 hours! Schmidt described the pain level as similar to walking over lit charcoal with a nail in your foot.

Here’s a video that might somewhat help you understand the intense pain that they cause.

Tarantula Hawks

Tarantula hawks are not aggressive. But if you try to handle them, you could provoke them to sting you. Their sting contains enough venom to paralyze tarantulas.

On the Schmidt sting pain index, their sting is also rated as a four out of four, indicating the worst possible pain.

Schmidt colorfully described it as getting electrocuted when taking a bubble bath!

Fortunately, the pain lasts less than 5 minutes, and the sting causes no significant damage to your skin.

Who is More Aggressive?

Bullet Ants

Bullet ants live in colonies and might develop defensive behavioral characteristics to protect their colony mates. But by nature, they are mostly non-aggressive.

They might only sting you if you try to handle or provoke them.

Make sure to keep away from logs of wood and don’t touch saplings in forested areas in bullet ant country because they might get intimidated and sting back.

Tarantula Hawks

Tarantula hawks are solitary wasps that do not live in colonies, and hence they are not aggressive by nature.

Like bullet ants, they would sting you only if they feel threatened. Their sting is as painful as bullet ants but does not last as long.

Bullet Ant Vs. Tarantula Hawk - Who Will Win

What Are They Predators Of?

Who will win in a fight is also a factor of who is braver and more powerful. By understanding which insects these two prey on, we can determine what kind of insects they can attack and kill.

As the name suggests, Tarantula hawks are predators of Tarantula spiders. Adults usually feed on flower nectar and small insects such as aphids.

Bullet ants also prey on smaller insects, and adults mainly feed on flower nectar. But they can lift food hundreds of times their size, so they are very powerful insects.

Bullet Ant

Bullet ants mainly feed on the nectar of flowers and prey on small insects.

However, like all ants, bullet ants are powerful and can lift weights up to hundreds of times their own.

As an aside, many insects, such as glass wing butterflies, have adapted themselves to produce bitter-tasting eggs to avoid them from getting eaten.

Tarantula Hawk

Tarantula hawks are part of a larger family of spider wasps, each of whom is a parasitoid and uses one type of spider for laying their eggs and feeding the larvae.

As the name suggests, tarantula hawks have chosen tarantulas.

And this is a bold choice because tarantulas can be almost twice the size of this wasp. Tarantulas can measure up to 5 inches in length.

Bullet Ant Vs. Tarantula Hawk - Who Will Win

How Do They Hunt?

Both the arthropods hunt using their strong stingers. While tarantulas wasps target tarantulas, the bullet ants use them on smaller insects.

Bullet Ant

Bullet ants hunt small arthropods by stinging them, which releases a venom that paralyzes these small insects.

A sting from one bullet ant attracts other ants to come and attack the prey, because it releases many chemicals and pheromones.

As a result, more ants keep coming and stinging the prey repeatedly. This strategy is useful if the prey is larger or there is a predator that is threatening their colony.

Once done, they tear the prey into pieces using their sharp mandibles and carry it back piece by piece into their colony for feeding.

Tarantula Hawk

To hunt spiders double their size, tarantula hawk wasps use a special technique. The female wasp lies on the ground, pointing its stinger upwards towards its target spider.

It then stings the tarantula in the lower abdomen region, injecting its venom. The sting paralyzes the spider making it incapable of movement.

It then drags the spider into her nest and lays a single egg on the spider’s abdomen. When the egg hatches, the spider is still paralyzed, waiting to be eaten alive.

Bullet Ant Vs. Tarantula Hawk - Who Will Win

Who Will Win in a Fight?

Tarantula hawk wasps are predators of tarantulas, while bullet ants either prey on small insects but are colony insects and can be quite aggressive.

But neither of the two are predators of each other. However, if we were to think of a hypothetical scenario, tarantula hawks might win in a solo fight.

Tarantula hawk wasps are larger, with longer legs and stingers. Moreover, they can fly to avoid the bite of the ant. So, in a solo fight, hawk wasps might be an advantage.

But once a bullet ant attacks, it attracts other nearby bullet sets to sting, so bullet ants will kill hawk wasps and win the fight in a team game.

Frequently Asked Questions

What animal kills tarantula hawks?

Tarantula hawks’ stings are excruciatingly painful, and therefore, they have a very small number of predators.
The only predators who dare to eat them are roadrunners and bullfrogs. They can tolerate such pain (roadrunners can pick one up and kill it before it even has a chance to sting) and kill tarantula hawks to feed on them.

What is the most painful animal on earth?

The bullet ant sting delivers a pain that is unbearable and lasts for 24 hours. Their stings are on the top of the painful stinging insects’ list. It scores the highest of four out of four on the Schmidt sting pain index scale.

What are the top 10 painful stings?

Bullet ants, tarantula hawks, paper wasps, the eastern yellow jacket, bald-faced hornet, warrior wasp, carpenter bee, red harvester ant, trap-jaw ant, and bulldog ant have the most painful stings in the world. The Schmidt pain index ranges from 2 to 4 for all these insects.

Which bee has the worst sting?

The worst of all bee stings is the sting of a giant Borneo carpenter bee. But amongst hymenopterans, its sting is not that high.
Per the Schmidt sting pain index, this pain is a 2 out of 4, while tarantula hawks and bullet ants have stingers that induce a pain rated as four out of four.

Wrap Up

You can tolerate a tarantula hawk sting as the pain would not last for more than 5 minutes.

But you can not live with the same pain for 24 hours.

So, the bullet ant sting remains the deadliest even if the Schmidt sting pain index of both the insects’ stings is the highest.

In a fight to the death, the wasp’s size and its ability to fly might help it win, but if the bullet ants start to attack in a swarm, the poor solitary wasp will have no other recourse but to run away.

We hope you enjoyed the read! Thank you for reading till the end.


  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

5 thoughts on “Bullet Ant vs. Tarantula Hawk: Who Will Win In The Wild?”

  1. I have seen very large examples of these wasps here in California up to “4 inch wing spans” with body length of about “2 1/2inches” however at state line Nevada My son and I saw one at more that a “10 inch wing span” with the tail dropped down in flight about the size of my index finger up to the second knuckle. It was flying about fifty feet in the air and moving very fast. I guess that was a once in a lifetime sight.
    When people tell you about large wasp> I can tell you ain’t seen nothing yet, without any doubt.

    • We have seen very large Tarantula Hawks in San Felipe in Baja California, Mexico. They were the size of sparrows.

  2. I have seen very large examples of these wasps here in California up to “4 inch wing spans” with body length of about “2 1/2inches” however at state line Nevada My son and I saw one at more that a “10 inch wing span” with the tail dropped down in flight about the size of my index finger up to the second knuckle. It was flying about fifty feet in the air and moving very fast. I guess that was a once in a lifetime sight.
    When people tell you about large wasp> I can tell you ain’t seen nothing yet, without any doubt.

  3. Just spotted one of these near my home at 3400 feet in Northwest Los Angeles County in the Antelope Valley region. I have yet to see a tarantula but I have to assume they are nearby given that this wasp was present.

    It flies like a dragonfly but moves in that jittery wasp-like fashion. The one I saw had neon-red/orange wings.

    I have read other comments elsewhere on this site about Tarantula Hawks and curious children as young as four trying to check it out! People, it moves like a wasp β€” it IS a wasp β€” and per Wikipedia the stinger is 7mm long, which would make it bigger than a 1 carat diamond (a 1 carat diamond ranges from ~6-6.5mm). All of which means you should keep a SAFE DISTANCE from this wasp.

  4. Hello I live in midland texas and my husband killed this bee hornet like in front of the house it is ugly n black w brownish orange wings it is ugly looks like it was looking to sting some body iv never seen nothing like this before it is the size of a quarter please help w any answers thank you..so much.i try to send a picture but I dont know how .


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